NJ attorney general cracks down on price gouging, coronavirus scams

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs announced measures Thursday to prevent unscrupulous retailers from attempting to unlawfully profit from residents’ fears about the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs sent warning letters to 10 retailers suspected of significantly inflating prices of items associated with the current concerns related to COVID-19. The letters warned retailers that New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act protects consumers from gross and unreasonable inflation of the price of any product in response to concerns about a public health event.

“We have a simple message to businesses seeking to profit from public health fears: Don’t do it,” Grewal said. “If you do, we will hold you accountable.”

The letters, sent to a combination of internet retailers and brick-and-mortar businesses across the state, also warn that the Consumer Fraud Act prohibits false and misleading statements related to the efficacy of products to cure or prevent diseases.

“The division interprets ‘unconscionable commercial practice’ to include the gross and unreasonable inflation of the price of any product in response to concerns about a public health event, such as the current spread of COVID-19, whether or not a state of emergency has been declared,” reads the letter. “In addition, making false or misleading statements regarding the efficacy or effectiveness of any product to protect against or prevent the spread of COVID-19 also violates the CFA and may result in the imposition of penalties and/or other relief.”

Consumers who believe they were targeted by a scheme related to COVID-19, or who believe that businesses have unfairly increased their prices in response to COVID-19, are encouraged to file a complaint online at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov or call 973-504-6240.

“We want to make sure that businesses understand the law and know that we will not tolerate gross and unreasonable price inflation or false or misleading statements,” said Paul Rodríguez, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “We will be monitoring the division’s complaint line and our investigators stand ready to take immediate action to protect the public from unscrupulous businesses who callously prey on consumers at their most vulnerable. We urge the public to report to us immediately any merchant they believe is unreasonably inflating prices of items or making false and misleading claims associated with the protection and prevention of the spread of COVID-19.”