Watch out for price gouging and consumer fraud in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Ida; state officials in New Jersey certainly are on the alert for it. “We will not allow anyone to unlawfully increase prices for food, gas, hotel rooms, generators, or other necessary items or services, or otherwise take financial advantage of residents as they struggle to recover from the storm damage,” Sean P. Neafsey, acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said Friday.
New Jersey’s price-gouging law prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency and for 30 days after its termination. A state of emergency in response to the storm was declared by Gov. Phil Murphy on Sept. 1.
An excessive price increase is any price that exceeds 10% of what a product or service sold for during the normal course of business before the state of emergency. Violations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for the second and subsequent offenses. Violators may also be required to pay consumer restitution, attorney’s fees, investigative fees, and injunctive relief. Each individual sale of merchandise is considered a separate and distinct violation.
“Our message is clear: if you prey on the victims of this tragedy, we will find you and we will make you pay,” said acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck. “Our laws prohibit price gouging and consumer fraud, and we will crack down on anyone who seeks to illegally profit from others’ vulnerability in a time of need.”
If you believe price gouging or other disaster-related fraud is occurring, you are advised to contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at (973) 504-6240. Consumers are also encouraged to file complaints online by visiting the division’s website.