THE Trade department has fined 18 stores for overpricing face masks amid Taal Volcano’s eruption, it said in a statement on Monday.

The retail shops had been fined P300,000 each for violating the Consumer Act, particularly for selling face masks at unfair prices and taking advantage of the situation, the agency said in a statement.

The stores were issued notices of violation, and were given 48 hours to explain. The agency set formal charges after it found the explanations “not acceptable.”

Its Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau monitored prices and supplies of N95 face masks, surgical and other face masks after it received reports of overpricing after the Jan. 12 eruption of Taal Volcano.

Enforcement activities in Bambang, Manila led to notices of violation to 12 shops in the two days after the initial eruption. Six more notices were issued notices on Jan. 15, the Trade department said. It said the prices of N95 masks jumped to P180 from P50 each.

“Most establishments monitored were claiming that those products were already sold-out due to the increased demand,” it said.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez had warned stores against raising prices to take advantage of high demand, it added.

The department earlier warned against profiteering, saying shops found to have unreasonably increased face mask prices would be “dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.” — Jenina P. Ibañez