Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring has announced hat he’s taking further actions to crack down on price gouging around the state.
In a news release Tuesday, Herring said he has sent 42 “warning letters” to businesses that Virginians have complained about.
“The letters inform the businesses that they are the subject of a price gouging complaint, ask for documentation pertaining to the complaint, and advise the businesses to immediately stop any illegal price gouging practices,” the release states.
“It is unfortunate that businesses will take advantage of a situation like a public health crisis to try and make more money off of necessary goods like hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, face masks, or water,” Herring states in the release. “My office and I take price gouging complaints very seriously and I hope that these letters will send a strong message to businesses across Virginia that price gouging will not be tolerated here.”
The letters also explain that the Office of the Attorney General “has authority to investigate possible violations of Virginia’s Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act and to bring enforcement actions to enjoin violations, seek restitution for affected consumers, and recover civil penalties, attorney’s fees, and expenses.”
The letters also ask for documentation from the businesses regarding their pricing practices before and after Gov. Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency on March 12.
“Importantly, the letters warn the businesses that the failure to cease and desist from engaging in any unlawful price gouging may be considered evidence of a willful violation for purposes of an award of civil penalties under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act,” the release states.
When Northam declared a state of emergency, Virginia’s Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act, which prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the 30-day period following a declared state of emergency, went into effect.
Items and services covered by these protections include but are not limited to water, ice, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, personal protective gear and more, the release states.
The basic test for determining if a price is unconscionable is whether the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the 10 days immediately prior to the disaster.
Last week, Herring and other attorney generals urged Amazon, Facebook, ebay, Walmart and Craigslist to “more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers who are using their services.”
According to Herring, suspected violations of Virginia’s Anti-Price Gouging Act should be reported to the attorney general's Consumer Protection Section for investigation at 800-552-9963, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by following the links for the price gouging complaint form, which is the preferred method, at https://www.oag.state.va.us/consumer-protection/files/PriceGougingComplaintFormOAG.pdf, and other complaint forms on the attorney general’s website.