Nearly 300 Price Gouging Complaints Filed in NJ Amid COVID-19 Scare
State investigators have received 270 complaints in a matter of days alleging price gouging during New Jersey's first public health emergency, which was prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
About 100 of the complaints to the state Division of Consumer Affairs came in just a 24-hour span, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Thursday.
Consumers were reporting price gouging or other unfair businesses practices in the sale of items related to public preparation.
The division has dedicated about 55 investigators to inspecting retail establishments throughout the state in following up on those complaints.
DCA Acting Director Paul Rodríguez said the state is "preparing to take action against a number of alleged violators.”
“We have declared a zero-tolerance policy for price gouging and other unfair business practices that prey on consumers concerned by the COVID-19 pandemic and we must use every available resource to enforce the laws that protect New Jersey consumers,” Grewal said.
New Jersey's price gouging law prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency and for 30 days after its termination. The current state of emergency and public health emergency went into effect March 9 under executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Since Monday, the Division has conducted inspections at dozens of retail locations in response to allegations of price gouging, many of which were the subject of numerous complaints.
The division also was part of an investigation with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office that resulted in criminal charges against the owner of a 7-Eleven store where a bootleg “spray sanitizer” left four boys with chemical burns, according to Grewal's office.
Manisha Bharade was charged with endangering the welfare of a child and deceptive business practices for the reported incident in River Vale.
Consumers are urged to beware of store or online ads for products that claim to cure or prevent COVID-19, or other offers and solicitations related to the virus.
Excessive price increases — defined as any price that exceeds 10% of the price the product or service was sold for during the normal course of business — are illegal during a State of Emergency.
Price gouging violations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for second and subsequent offenses.
Anyone who believes they've seen a case of price gouging can contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at 973-504-6240.
A special voicemail box has been set up to address COVID-19 related price gouging complaints and is being checked regularly, even outside of normal business hours. Consumers should leave the following:
- His/her name
- Contact information
- Nature of the complaint
- Name and location of the business
- Price of a good or service being sold
- Price prior to the declared State of Emergency, if known.
Consumers also are encouraged to file complaints online by visiting the Division’s website.