‘Face prison’: Australian Federal Police investigating rapid antigen test price gouging
Retailers caught inflating the prices of Covid-19 rapid antigen tests risk substantial fines or prison time as the nationwide shortage of the kits continues.
The Australian Federal Police has begun investigating RAT price gouging, warning individuals and businesses they could face up to 5 years’ imprisonment or a $66,000 financial penalty.
The AFP announced the probe on Friday morning, saying it had the power to investigate when a retailer or individual buys RATs from another retailer and resells them with a mark-up of more than 20 per cent.
“For example, if a tobacconist buys RATs from a chemist and then sells those RATs for more than 20 per cent of what they were purchased for, that tobacconist faces criminal charges under the law,” the AFP said in a statement.
It does not apply to retailers who buy from a wholesaler.
AFP crime command Assistant Commissioner Nigel Ryan said there would be “zero tolerance” for those who were profiteering from RATs.
“The AFP will use its full powers to crack down on RAT price gouging. Not only is price gouging of RATs unethical but it is illegal, and the AFP will use its significant resources to ensure it protects the public from the unlawful greed of others,’’ he said.
The AFP has begun two investigations in Queensland and NSW after referrals from the national consumer watchdog.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said earlier this week it had significant concerns about the retail pricing of rapid tests, being sold for up to $70 each despite wholesale costs ranging between $3.95 and $11.45.
“At the extreme end, we have received reports or seen media coverage of tests costing up to $500 for two tests through online marketplaces … which is clearly outrageous,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
Mr Sims had warned retailers they could be “named and shamed” and asked the public to alert the ACCC to instances of price gouging, leading to almost 2000 tip-offs.
The commonwealth government, along with the states and territories, have pushed for the public to move away from “gold standard”, labour-intensive PCR testing and use at-home RATs.
But the rapid test kits remain in very short supply and high demand, leading to widespread reports of inflated prices and essential workers struggling to find them.
The federal government has strongly denied reported allegations from retailers that it is diverting orders of RATs to bolster its own supplies.
The AFP on Friday said its strike teams had the powers to force individuals or businesses engaged in price gouging to surrender the RATs, which would be sent to the National Medical Stockpile.
“To date, the AFP has not seized or surrendered any RATs, PPE or other relevant medical supplies to the National Medical Stockpile,” it said.
The AFP expects more referrals from the ACCC, which will be co-ordinated under Task-force LOTUS, which was set up last year to respond to potential criminal threats to the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
Originally published as ‘Face prison’: Australian Federal Police investigating rapid antigen test price gouging
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