As government officials, news outlets and health officials are keeping the public appraised of the COVID-19 situation, consumers are finding the cost of high-demand items, such as hand sanitizers, tissues, face masks and other products. skyrocketing.
Over the last few weeks, Better Business Bureau received reports from consumers about the frequency of scams involving these items and fake cures. Now, state attorneys general offices may need to initiate a state price-gouging laws, which will automatically go into effect during a declared state of emergency in order to prevent businesses from over-charging customers who are preparing to take preventative measures from getting sick.
Price gouging is a term referring to when a seller spikes the prices of goods, services or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair and is considered exploitative, potentially to an unethical extent. The best way to avoid price gouging is to plan ahead and have the necessary supplies you need on hand.
BBB warns businesses to avoid the temptation to raise prices during a situation such as storm or a pandemic because it may be illegal to do so in certain states and because it erodes marketplace trust. Consumers will remember which businesses took advantage of them during a storm.
Anyone who suspects price gouging during a declared state of emergency should report it to Better Business Bureau by filing a complaint,, or to BBB Ad Truth. Consumers have an option to report these activities to the state attorney general’s office. When reporting a price gouging complaint, gather as much information as safely possible and follow these three tips:
- Be as specific about the transaction as possible, including the name and address of the business, names of any employees involved, and information detailing the spike in pricing.
- Gather together documentation supporting the price gouging (receipts, photos of products and their advertised pricing, invoices, etc.)
- Compare pricing of similar products with other sellers in the area as well as online. It’s important to note similarities and differences between brands, size/quantity, manufacturers, model numbers, and prices.
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is taking swift action to begin addressing complaints against Wisconsin businesses accused of price gouging.
Following dozens of complaints and thorough price checking at over a hundred stores across Wisconsin, the agency has issued Cease and Desist letters to 16 companies that are suspected of raising prices unlawfully during this period of economic disruption. One such company is N95Sales.com, which engaged in suspected price gouging on N95 masks, a critical item for front-line health care workers that is in short supply in Wisconsin.
In Executive Order #72, Governor Evers declared a public health emergency in the State of Wisconsin. He also declared that Wisconsin is experiencing a period of abnormal economic disruption because of COVID-19. This declaration authorizes DATCP to enforce Wisconsin’s price gouging law (Section 100.305 of the statutes and Chapter ATCP 106 of DATCP’s Administrative Code) until the emergency has ended. This declaration applies to the entire state and applies to any consumer good or service being sold at wholesale or retail.
“While it is not uncommon for prices to increase during times of high demand or low supply DATCP will be closely monitoring the marketplace to ensure Wisconsin consumers are being treated fairly,” said Lara Sutherlin, Administrator for the Division of Trade and Consumer Protection “Consumers can report their concerns to DATCP’s Bureau of Consumer Protection for evaluation and follow up.”
To report suspected price gouging, please download a complaint form from the DATCP website at datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Programs_Services/DownloadConsumerComplaintForm.aspx and submit it via email to DATCPHotline@wisconsin.gov. Please be prepared to provide the following information:
Date the product was offered for sale
Specific product being sold, including:
Product name, product size, and price.