Gephardt: Hundreds Of Price Gouging Complaints Under Investigation In Utah

Mar 23, 2020, 10:34 PM | Updated: 10:53 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — State officials have received “lots and lots” of complaints about price gouging during the coronavirus outbreak, according to the director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.

Daniel O’Bannon said his investigators are slammed running down tips that businesses are jacking up the price of the stuff consumers need during this time of crisis.

Hot items are water, hand sanitizer, household cleaners, cold medicine and, of course, toilet paper.

Consumers have reported having a hard time finding the bathroom commodity on grocery shelves over the last few weeks.

It’s against the law to inflate prices during a declared emergency. Violations are punishable by up to $1,000 per violation, up to $10,000 per day. So very quickly, any money gained can make like toilet paper, and go down the drain.

The good news, O’Bannon said, is most of the complaints appear to be situations where consumers didn’t get a joke.

For example, the division investigated complaints that a local fast food restaurant put a sign in the window offering toilet paper for $20 per roll. The manager told investigators it was a joke and that no toilet paper was sold.

“The world doesn’t necessarily realize that they’re trying to be funny when they see, you know, a roll of toilet paper posted online for $50, or whatever the case may be,” he said.

That said, investigators are seeing what appears to be legitimate instances of price gouging.

“A business entity with locations across the Wasatch Front was alleged to have marked up commodities such as water, fruits and vegetables, and other grocery related items,” a statement from the DCP said. “The business asserted that the wholesale cost of their products in many categories has increased during the state of emergency.”

Investigators are looking into it, but price increases “corresponding to increased wholesale costs” are not illegal.

DCP teams are also investigating a business that allegedly doubled the cost of toilet paper.

“The Division is requiring the business to provide records of the wholesale cost of the toilet paper to determine if excessive prices were charged for the commodities,” officials said. “If the allegations of price gouging are proven to be true, the business is subject to significant fines and penalties.”

Other sellers will be receiving warning letters, O’Bannon said.

The statute does not only apply to businesses guilty of price gouging. Any individual seller jacking up the price of goods and selling them in, say, online classified ads, is subject to punishment.

Price gouging laws apply to online sales, as well.

Officials told KSL TV they have received more than 400 complaints of price gouging related to COVID-19 as of Monday. Some of those complaints overlap, with multiple consumers complaining about the same instance of perceived price gouging.

If you see it, make sure you take a picture of it so that you can prove what you say is true, O’Bannon said. Then, DCP officials want to hear from you.

Consumers were encouraged to report price gouging to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at consumerprotection@utah.gov, or 801-530-6300. The DCP will work with the Utah Attorney General’s Office if conduct rises to a criminal violation.

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov.

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Gephardt: Hundreds Of Price Gouging Complaints Under Investigation In Utah