NJ Tells 80 Stores to Stop Price Gouging or Pay $10,000 Fines
More than 80 businesses in New Jersey accused of price gouging or other violations amid the COVID-19 state of emergency are being sent cease-and-desist and warning letters.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the state Division of Consumer Affairs announced Tuesday that the Division had received a total of 619 complaints for reported coronavirus price gouging or other consumer protection violations as of 2 p.m. March 17.
Consumers reported that retailers have been unfairly raising prices on surgical masks, hand sanitizers, disinfectant sprays and wipes, food, bottled water, and other items that are in high-demand by consumers worried about protecting themselves from the novel coronavirus.
The more than 600 complaints relate to a much smaller number of identifiable businesses, according to state officials, as some businesses have sparked multiple complaints and some complaints have not included enough information to identify which business is at issue.
As of Tuesday, DCA completed at least 159 inspections and had issued or will issue 13 subpoenas for additional information.
New Jersey's price gouging law bans excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency and for 30 days after it ends. A price increase is considered excessive if the new price is more than 10% higher than the price charged during the normal course of business prior to the emergency.
Price gouging violations are punishable by fines of up to $10,000 for the first violation and $20,000 for each second and subsequent violations.
Each sale of merchandise is considered a separate violation, as was the case when a discount store in Jersey City was issued nine tickets, for a total of $90,000 in fines, on March 12.
The number of complaints by Tuesday was more than double since March 12, when the tally stood at 270.
Violators may also be required to pay consumer restitution, attorney’s fees, and investigative fees, and be subject to injunctive relief.
“We are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to consumer complaints about price gouging and other abuses related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Grewal said. “It’s times like these when the work of the Division of Consumer Affairs is most critical. People are looking to us for guidance and for protection, and it’s our job to be there for them in every way we can."
Anyone who believes price gouging is occurring, 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 will be checked regularly, even outside of normal business hours.
Consumers should leave their names, contact information, nature of the complaint and the name and location of the business.
Reports also should note the price of a good or service being sold, as well as the price prior to the declared State of Emergency, if known.
Consumers also can file complaints online by visiting the Division’s website.