Shops and scammers in UK try to cash in on coronavirus crisis

By Judith Mora

London, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- Some shops in the United Kingdom have tried to profit from the coronavirus pandemic by charging 15 euros for hand sanitiser, 10 euros for paracetamol or by selling fake testing kits.

Big supermarkets, which have seen a surge in sales driven by panic buying, have collaborated with each other to guarantee supplies, thanks to a relaxation of competition law.

Many smaller food shops and local pharmacies have raised their prices.

Coronavirus-related scams have exploded online and banks including Barclays and HSBC have been criticised for conditions applied to government-backed emergency loans.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has launched a special unit to tackle the issue of price inflation and has warned businesses that they will face fines and jail if they charge unjustifiably high rates for goods such as masks.

“We urge retailers to behave responsibly throughout the coronavirus outbreak and not to make misleading claims or charge vastly inflated prices,” it said in a statement.

The Financial Conduct Authority has issued a warning about online fraud around the crisis, such as scammers posing as legitimate companies in a bid to get people to hand over their personal data.

The CMA said that since it launched its Covid-19 taskforce on March 20 it has received up to 40 complaints per hour.

The competition regulator said it has written to the pharmaceutical and food sectors to warn them not to take advantage of the situation and encouraged the public to report anyone in breach of the law.

It also said it would prosecute individuals who resell goods online at inflated prices after sites such as eBay and Amazon had to withdraw thousands of products.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will enact additional emergency legislation if unscrupulous merchants try to exploit the situation, with hikes on basic items such as toilet paper, baby formula, nappies and tampons.

London has seen a high level of overpricing by local businesses, including in the borough of Tower Hamlets.

The area is home to around 315,000 people and is one of the poorest areas in the country with a high unemployment rate.

Borough mayor John Biggs denounced price hikes in a letter on social media in which he said “our elderly people have the highest rate of poverty anywhere in the country”.

“There is widespread community anger and we should not tolerate profit being put before people at this time of crisis,” he added.

Residents took to Facebook groups to post photographs of shops which were charging high prices and organised boycotts against them.

Linda Dreher, a 60-year-old classroom assistant, who has a chronic lung condition and has been isolated in her apartment for 10 days.

“My fantastic neighbours are going shopping for me, but we are all very concerned about the high price of things in the neighbourhood, it creates a lot of anxiety for me,” she told Efe in a phone interview.

Clare Burgess, a 56-year-old freelancer, who is facing a drop in income due to the economic crisis, criticised pharmacies, which she said “know perfectly well that they are overcharging and taking advantage of the need”.

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