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State investigators 'aggressively pursuing' increased number of price gouging reports

Posted: 3:21 PM, Mar 24, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-24 17:21:01-04
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SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Division of Consumer Protection is aggressively pursuing reports of price gouging after receiving an increase in reports over the weekend.

Daniel O'Bannon, the division’s director, told FOX 13 Tuesday that they have received more than 400 tips over the past week or so.

Attorney General Sean Reyes said many of reports are from people charging an excessive amount for basic items like toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, cold medicine, and even baby formula.

The Price Controls During Emergencies Act prohibits businesses and individuals from selling items available at retail for excessive prices.

Related story: FOX 13 Investigates price gouging during coronavirus pandemic

An “excessive price” is defined in the act as “a price for a good or service that exceeds by more than 10% the average price charged by that person for that good or service in the 30-day period immediately preceding the day on which the state of emergency is declared.”

If it weren’t for the state of emergency, people or companies could charge whatever they want.

The division says its investigators are actively contacting those accused of price gouging.

Some grocery stores that were reported to have increased prices on some items appear to be compensating for increased wholesale prices, which the division says it not illegal. Part of the investigations includes looking at a business’ records of wholesale cost to determine if excessive prices were charged in relation to those increases.

O’Bannon said most of the complaints the division receives are individuals trying to make a joke, posting an ad online with extreme prices. People who saw the ads believed they were an attempt at price gouging and reported them.

“I realize there is a lot of stress. People are looking for an outlet. Posting fake price gouging posts is not the way to get that outlet,” O’Bannon said. “With emotions already high, people are going to take seriously these kinds of offers, and it adds to the noise around all that’s happening.”

The division does take all leads seriously, and therefore strongly discourages Utahns from making jokes about price gouging as they waste state resources and add unnecessary panic to members of the public in an already difficult time.

O’Bannon still encourages Utahns to report instances that they suspect may be price gouging. Reports can be filed at dcp.utah.gov, consumerprotection@utah.gov or (801) 530-6300. He encourages including a photo of the item and the price if submitting a report online.

Any business or individual found guilty of price gouging can be fined $1,000 per transaction, up to a maximum of $10,000 per day.

“We applaud the outstanding work of our retailers at this difficult time,” Gov. Gary Herbert. “They are working overtime to keep Utahns supplied, and we thank them for great efforts under pressure. There are also reports of bad actors out there that are trying to price gouge. That is not the Utah way, and we will respond appropriately to those reports.”