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This Big Classifieds Site Isn't Cracking Down On People Price Gouging On Coronavirus Supplies

Facebook, eBay, Google and Amazon have all introduced at least some measures to crack down on price gouging — but not Gumtree. Update: Following this report, Gumtree announced a policy change.

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads across the world, people everywhere are panic buying supplies such as toilet paper, hand sanitiser and face masks. And many have attempted to capitalise off that by selling goods in high demand online, at several times their retail price.

In response, eBay has banned sales of face masks and hand sanitiser. Facebook and Google have banned advertisements selling face masks, and also such sales in Facebook Marketplace. Amazon is restricting third parties from selling these products (though how they're deciding who should be restricted is unclear).

These measures have been implemented with mixed success — ads were still appearing on Google and people were still listing face masks on Marketplace using keywords other than "coronavirus" — but the intent is there.

But on the Australian iteration of Gumtree — a huge buy, swap and sell website that is based in the UK — no such restrictions are in place.

And people are going hog wild selling toilet paper, hand sanitiser and face masks, often at a significant premium.

Profiting from a pandemic 🤮 Is this why there is no hand sanitizer on the shelves anymore? #gumtree #covid19 #coronavirusaus #ProfitsOverPeople

Many people have posted to social media about their frustration over the price gouging.

So, could eBay, gumtree, FB marketplace and co. please automatically de-list toilet paper sales? This is absolutely criminal behaviour and should be penalised! 😡

It's difficult to tell how often these goods are being successfully sold for exorbitant prices, because Gumtree does not list the sale price once an item has been sold.

In some cases, the listings are clearly a joke.

Tweeps getting all upset by that woman selling high priced TP at the Sydney market are gonna head explode when they search for toilet paper on gumtree 🤯😂 Highly recommend for Sunday morning humour #toiletpaperwars

But in other cases, multiple listings found by BuzzFeed News show supplies in high demand being repeatedly sold by the same users.

Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for Gumtree to stop listing these goods.

The site does not take a portion of sales, so there isn't any particular incentive to allow expensive goods to be sold on its platform.

And one of Australia's most senior politicians — home affairs minister Peter Dutton, who was also the first Australian politician to be diagnosed with COVID-19 — has threatened to "come down like a ton of bricks" on people profiteering off the coronavirus pandemic.

I asked Gumtree earlier this week whether it would follow the example of other classified sites and crack down on price gouging.

The response sent on behalf of the company was swift and emphatic: nah.

It said Gumtree encouraged users to report ads that breached their policies — which includes ads "intended to profit off natural disasters, health or public safety concerns, or tragic events" — and recommended people get advice from the World Health Organization before making purchases.

But it did not say it would crack down itself on the price gouging.

I replied, just in case my request had been misunderstood.

After a few hours a reply popped into my inbox. In short: yes, that's correct, at the moment.

The company's position hinted at a change — "Gumtree is exploring restrictions and will be implementing changes to their policy in due course" — but hasn't informed BuzzFeed News of any updated policies since.

The site isn't entirely filled by price gouging. Some people are using Gumtree to offer supplies to people in need for free.

Gumtree shows us a perfect snapshot of the world. Some people selling single rolls of toilet paper at ridiculous prices, others offering multiple rolls free to the elderly with delivery. Nothing in between. 2020, folks!

One seller even changed their mind about selling toilet paper because, they said, they felt "guilty about it".


Following publication of this report, Gumtree announced it will temporarily ban the sales of toilet paper, hand sanitiser, disinfecting wipes and face masks.