Online originals: Attorney General’s office cracks down on price gouging for COVID-19 supplies

GREENVILLE, NC (WNCT) — North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said his office is cracking down on price gouging in the state, particularly as it relates to COVID-19. He also wants North Carolina to report the increases to his office.

Price gouging occurs when sellers take advantage and overcharge for essential items and supplies such as masks and home COVID tests.

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, Stein’s office has investigated multiple vendors for price gouging — including sellers on Amazon — for unnecessarily raising prices on items like masks and hand sanitizer.

“When there is an emergency, you and I become in dire straits. We may have no power for days and need a generator, or a tree may have fallen on a roof and we need it removed immediately, or there’s no gas at the gas station because of a pipeline stoppage. Anyway, when we have this desperation , it is illegal for a seller to exploit and scam us.

Josh Stein, Attorney General of North Carolina

Under North Carolina law, the state’s predatory pricing law prohibits overcharging for goods and services during a crisis. It is in effect under Executive Order 245. It is a felony and will remain active until April 5, 2022.

“We accept daily price changes for products. We know, for example, that if there is a freeze in Florida, the price of orange juice will go up,” says North Carolina state economist Mike Walden. “What we don’t accept is when we have some kind of emergency where we know people are in need.”

Walden says situations of price hikes are very rare, but when people start taking advantage of them, especially in times of crisis, the state will crack down on violators.

“What the Attorney General people do is they try to see how reasonable that is. So they compare the increase in price to the increase in what the seller had to pay to get that product. And if the two are not compatible, the Attorney General’s legislation gives the power to impose fines and so on.

Mike Walden, North Carolina State Economist

Stein said he personally takes these cases extremely seriously. He says that since 2018, “We’ve filed over a dozen cases against two different defendants and returned over a million dollars to the people of North Carolina and the state.”

To report a price hike, file a complaint with the state Department of Justice or call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

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