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Air Force vet who hoarded 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to sell up to $70/bottle now under investigation

Bottles of Purell hand sanitizer. (Valerie Everett/Flickr)
March 18, 2020

Former Air Force technical sergeant Matt Colvin came under investigation this week after he admitted during an interview that he bought 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer to resell for profit amid coronavirus panic.

Colvin, 36, and his brother Noah hit numerous stores to clear shelves of hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, amassing pallets of product he intended to resell on Amazon for a profit. Colvin’s first 300 bottles of hand sanitizer sold immediately after he posted them on Amazon, each sale for between $8 and $70 each, he told New York Times over the weekend.

He called it “crazy money,” but his profiteering — along with many other resellers — caught Amazon’s attention. The company deleted thousands of listings for sanitizers, antibacterial wipes, and facemasks, and also suspended sellers for their price gouging.

Colvin complained he had 17,700 bottles of sanitizer left and no place to sell them.

“It’s been a huge amount of whiplash,” he told NYT. “From being in a situation where what I’ve got coming and going could potentially put my family in a really good place financially to ‘What the heck am I going to do with all of this?’”

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Colvin has been an Amazon seller since 2015 and has made a six-figure career from it. He follows trends to sell popular items, including Nike shoes and pet toys.

Last month as coronavirus panic begin to set in, Colvin bought 2,000 “pandemic packs” at a discount from a liquidation firm. Each pack included 50 face masks, four bottles of hand sanitizer, and a thermometer. He paid just $3.50 for each pack, and sold all 2,000 of them between $40 and $50 each.

The Tennessee Attorney General’s office told NYT it issued Colvin a cease-and-desist order and launched an investigation into his practices. Price gouging is illegal in Tennessee, as the state forbids people from selling essential goods at unreasonable prices during a disaster.

Colvin insists what he did wasn’t price-gouging because his prices include his labor, Amazon fees, and shipping costs, which are high due to sanitizer falling under the hazardous material category.

Colvin said his actions were in response to “inefficiencies in the marketplace” and his purchases were made outside metro areas where demand was not overwhelming. The sales then allowed his supply to feed the demand, he said.

“I honestly feel like it’s a public service,” he said. “I’m being paid for my public service.”

Colvin said he hoped to sell his stock locally for a small profit. He also said he was looking into ways to donate the supplies.

“I’m not looking to be in a situation where I make the front page of the news for being that guy who hoarded 20,000 bottles of sanitizer that I’m selling for 20 times what they cost me,” he said.

According to an update from the New York Times, Colvin donated two-thirds of his supplies to a local church, while the state attorney general’s office confiscated the remaining third to distribute for donation in Kentucky.

“It was never my intention to keep necessary medical supplies out of the hands of people who needed them,” he said.