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Businesses on notice

Price gouging and misleading ads not on

empty shelves in supermarket
Last updated: 02 April 2020

Over the past few months, as the effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus on Australian communities have grown, we've seen people respond in very different ways.

We've seen healthcare workers turning up every day to help people who have symptoms and are worried. We've seen cultural institutions move rapidly to close exhibitions and major events, putting health and safety before financial impacts. We've seen calm, clear advice from virologists and other medical experts.

We've also seen worried people panic-buying groceries, clearing supermarket shelves.

As a consumer organisation, we made a deliberate decision not to report on shortages of toilet paper and other groceries. The last thing we wanted to do was make the situation worse by making people feel like they needed to stockpile household goods.

But it's easy to understand why some people feel the need to do this. These are uncharted waters, and for many people, the security of knowing that they'll be able to feed their kids if something goes wrong is an important anchor.

At CHOICE, we're closely watching how businesses are responding. What worries us most is the risk that businesses will take advantage of these times to tap into our anxieties in ways that drive their own profits.

What worries us most is the risk that businesses will take advantage of these times to tap into our anxieties

In March, Bupa used images of toilet paper shortages in online ads to push private health insurance. Given that the response to COVID-19 is being led by our public health system, including GPs subsidised through Medicare, this was in poor taste. Bupa took down this ad following our coverage.

We've also seen cleaning products and sanitisers that claim to "kill coronavirus" despite the fact they've been tested on the animal strain of the virus, rather than the human strain.

As this crisis evolves, we won't be telling you how to wash your hands or when to stay home from work. We'll leave that to the health experts. But rest assured, we'll continue providing advice on your rights as a consumer and fighting to defend them.

Already, our experts have been hard at work explaining whether you should take out health insurance for COVID-19, whether travel insurance covers you and how the coronavirus affects your super. We'll continue to do our best to keep you informed.

This is a time in which our community needs to come together, and businesses need to behave to the highest standards.

We're actively looking out for businesses that see this as an opportunity to take advantage of people who are worried through misleading advertising, price gouging or shonky health claims. If you see something that affects consumers and think we should know about it, get in touch: newstips@choice.com.au or tell us at CHOICE.community.