N.J. businesses keep illegally raising prices to profit from coronavirus, AG says

Posted Mar 12, 2020

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the Division of Consumer Affairs is cracking down on price gouging — when businesses and merchants increase the price of products more than 10 percent to profit off the public’s concern — by sending out 55 investigators to inspect storefronts around the state.

"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,” he said.

State officials announced six new cases of novel coronavirus Thursday, bringing the total of positive cases in New Jersey to 29. Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency on Monday, triggering the state’s Price Gouging Law.

But the Division of Consumer Affairs received about 100 complaints in the last 24 hours alone, Grewal noted.

County and local consumer protection personnel were called upon to “join forces to swiftly investigate and put a stop to any merchant seeking to take financial advantage of consumers trying to stay safe and protect themselves and their loved ones from the spread of this virus,” he said.

The Division of Consumer Affairs has already sent warnings to at least 10 businesses caught price gouging hand sanitizer and face masks, and also partnered with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate a dangerous “spray sanitizer” sold at a 7-Eleven in River Vale.

Store owner Manisha Bharade is accused of mixing, bottling and selling a fraudulent spray sanitizer that burned four boys, officials said. She was charged with endangering the welfare of a child and deceptive business practices, and officials are investigating the store’s other sales further.

Consumers should also be wary of products that claim to cure or prevent coronavirus, or other offers related to the disease. The virus, which was discovered in December 2019, currently has no known cure or vaccine.

Businesses caught price gouging face a $10,000 fine for the first offense, and $20,000 for subsequent offenses.

The Division of Consumer Affairs has set up a voicemail box for price gouging complaints related to coronavirus, which can be reach at 973-504-6240. Complaints can also be filled out on the division’s website.

COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, has sickened more than 1,300 people around the country and is responsible for at least 39 deaths, including the death of a 69-year-old Little Ferry man.

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