RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said his Consumer Protection Section has received hundreds of complaints of price gouging since Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency on March 12.
“So far, we have received about 250 complaints for people having to pay a significantly higher price for necessary supplies. Things like cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, those types of things, bottled water," said Herring. “This is really unfortunate that there are unscrupulous people out there who would take advantage of a public health crisis like this, or other natural disaster, for their own economic benefit and charge Virginians significantly higher prices for basic supplies. But, we will do everything we can to put a stop to it.”
Herring said his office has sent letters to 42 businesses notifying them they are being investigated, asking them for documentation, and asking them to stop their alleged price gouging.
“If they don't stop, then there are other legal tools that we can use. But, I would hope that if they got a letter from the Attorney General's office saying, stop price gouging, they'll stop,” added Herring.
Herring said when Northam declared a state of emergency on March 12, Virginia’s Post-Disaster Anti-Price Gouging Act was triggered.
The Act prohibits businesses from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the 30-days following the declaration. Such items include “water, ice, food, cleaning products, hand sanitizers, medicines, and personal protective gear.”
The Attorney General said the basic test to determine what is an unconscionable price is “whether the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the ten days immediately prior to the disaster.”
Herring said the complaints have come from every region in the state, including the Richmond region.
While he could not name specific businesses for legal reasons, Herring said they ranged from small brick and mortar stores to big box retailers, to online shopping.
“We've also sent letters to the online platforms like eBay, Amazon, Facebook and others, to ask them to take a more active part in helping us to enforce those laws,” added Herring.
If you believe you have fallen victim to price gouging, you are asked to file a report with the Consumer Protection Section.