OCEAN COUNTY – With people fearing that the coronavirus will spread further and stores having shortages on many products, price gouging has become a major concern within the community.
Many stores are reporting having shortages of soap, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, bottled water, cleansers and toilet paper.
Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari is warning local businesses that price gouging will not be accepted.
“We have zero tolerance for price gouging,” Vicari said. “When the governor declared a state of emergency it included specific safeguards and severe penalties for price gouging.”
Vicari, who is the Chairman of Consumer Affairs for the county, also said that consumers making purchases at stores or online are protected under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act.
“It is unconscionable that anyone would prey on customers who are simply trying to protect themselves and their loved ones,” he said.
The director of Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs Stephen Scaturro said that he and his staff are already watching out for any artificially inflated prices.
“We’ve got boots on the ground looking for problems and we’re ready to respond to any complaints,” Scaturro said. “As soon as the governor issued his state of emergency, I sent investigators out to make sure stores were complying with the law.”
The state law says that during a time of emergency, merchants can not increase prices by more than 10 percent.
Scaturro and his team said that they already received two complaints of price gouging.
“Someone called to complain that a dollar store was selling bottles of hand sanitizer for $4.99 each. Our investigator found the store had paid a wholesale price of $3.99 per bottle, so there was no price gouging,” Scaturro said.
The other complaint included the cost of surgical masks at a local retailer and is still under investigation.
According to Vicari, the department is responding to any complaints immediately.
Vicari stated that if any resident feels they have been a victim of price gouging recently, they should call the Department of Consumer Affairs at 732-929-2105.