Attorney general tackles price-gouging complaints
The Connecticut attorney general’s office reported Tuesday it has received more than 70 complaints of price gouging for supplies in demand like disinfectants and toilet paper, since Gov. Ned Lamont declared a state of emergency a week ago in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Connecticut law does not cite a specific definition for what constitutes price gouging, setting a general standard of “unconscionably excessive” increases. Other states investigate increases starting at 10 percent or 15 percent of the going rate of any items or services in advance of a shortage pushing up prices.
Attorney General William Tong is urging shoppers to report any abuses, indicating his office has received reports of bottles of hand sanitizer selling for $25 and disinfectant wipes going for $40 for a pack of three. Consumers have filed complaints as well against online vendors, including one which was said to have listed a $200 shipping fee for a package of face masks selling for $50.
“Bad actors are using this pandemic to take advantage of the vulnerable and those who fear for their health and safety,” Tong said in a Tuesday news release. “We will not tolerate price gouging during this public health emergency, and we will take aggressive action to stop it.”
In other states, some retailers have defended sharp increases in prices on grounds of higher prices they say they are being charged by wholesalers for shipments. But stiff sanctions have already been enforced in some locales, including in Jersey City, N.J. where a store was fined $90,000 after officials determined it had hiked prices illegally on nine separate products, according to NJ.com.
Tong’ office did not indicate whether it has issued any warnings or actions to bring any offending retailers in line with state law, with a spokesperson stating it is “proceeding aggressively” in response.
The attorney general’s office is collecting complaints online at www.dir.ct.gov/ag/complaint or via phone at 1-860-808-5318. Consumers should provide as many details as possible, including the name and address of the retailer, the date and time any price gouging was discovered, and if possible any supporting photos taken with a mobile device.
Merchants are allowed to ration the sale of items to maintain stocks for customers throughout the day, with area stores having implemented limits on some items like paper towels, toilet paper and bottled water.
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman