(WEHT)- Stores were one of the first places to see the effects of the coronavirus crisis and certain products became hot commodities, suddenly disappearing from store shelves. Shortly after came some complaints of excessively high prices for those products and hoarding or price gouging
Shelley Kirk: Betsy thank you so much for joining us to talk about this. How many complaints do you get in your office about price gouging, how prevalent is this?
Betsy Denardi: Typically we don’t really receive a lot of complaints about price gouging. Indiana statute, specific statute related to price gouging is related specifically to fuel so it’s not an area where we typically receive a lot of complaints. However, it is an area when there is an emergency declaration or pandemic type occurrences like we have right now where our office does get a lot of complaints about price gouging and we look at those to determine whether or not the businesses’ practices to increase the prices is either unfair or unconscionable to consumers.
SK: Tell us exactly what price gouging is, when does supply and demand actually become price gouging?
BD: So what we look at is how much was the increase in the price, based on what the price was prior to the declaration of emergency by the governor, and looking at what are those factors that might exist that explain that why the prices have been increased. Did the manufacturers have to increase the prices because they had to increase the number of workers that were coming in or increase the cleaning that needed to be done at the location, has there been some disruption in the supply chain that is causing issues that require the price to go up, those types of things to make a determination as to whether the increase was based on a business reason or if the increase was based on trying to take advantage of the fact that many consumers want those goods as quickly as possible.
SK: So there’s a lot of factors that go into this, not just the price itself. Have you actually seen any price gouging and can you give us examples?
BD: We’ve received over 140 complaints about price gouging for a variety of different items and we’re still investigating those and so we don’t have any specific examples to disclose at this time.
SK: So at this time you don’t really have any solid confirmed price gouging issues in Indiana?
BD: We’re still investigating but we haven’t yet taken any action to issue a cease and desist letter or to file any lawsuits. We’re still investigating those matters so we’re not at liberty to disclose any of those.
SK: What exactly does your office do? Once you get this complaint do you immediately go into action and contact the supplier?
BD: So when we receive consumer complaints about price gouging the first thing we do is reach out to the consumer to get some additional information. Most consumers, when they file their complaint, aren’t attaching copies of their receipt of the items that they purchased or another helpful item is if they’re in the store and they have the ability to snap a picture of the price of the product and any products on the shelf, so that we have that information in real time from when the consumer was in the store. So the first thing we do are to call the consumers to get info from them and then after that we do reach out to the businesses and sometimes we have people go into the business and get additional info from them but we do reach out to get info from the business next before we make any sort of determination that there may be any wrongdoing
Sk: Now if a consumer sees what they believe to be price gouging but yet they need that product if they purchase that product and you all eventually after investigating determine that it is price gouging is there any chance they could get a refund or any restitution from this price gouging?
BD: It’s possible if we brought an action against a business under the deceptive consumer sales act alleging that they were unfair or unconscionable business practices we are able to seek restitution but we can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to get restitution from a business for a consumer. So what we advise in the attorney general’s office is that if it’s not a product that you need, obviously if it’s a necessity you need to purchase it but if it’s not something that you need do a little research and see if there are some other places where you can check the prices to see if they’re lower at either another store or by purchasing it online before you make that purchase.
SK: And while i have you here, I want to ask you one thing that we actually had some viewers call us and tell us and ask us this one question and we feel like this is a great opportunity to ask you if a store is advertising a sale but refuses to give you the sale price once that consumer goes in, is that illegal?
BD: So the Federal Trade Commission has different regulations and rules about those types of things so I don’t know for sure. Under our Indiana law it would be something we would look at as whether or not it was misrepresentation by the business that there was a sale price for the product and then when the consumer went in to purchase it that that sale price was not available, we would look at it as misrepresentation, so we would need to get additional information to make the determination as to whether a business made that as a misrepresentation or not.
SK: It may be worth contacting your office and in line with that who do, what do people do if they think they’ve seen price gouging or they think there’s some misrepresentation what do they do?
BD: If a person has been subject to price gouging or they see misrepresentation or if they’re seeing any sort of coronavirus related scams they can file a complaint with our office at indianaconsumer.com or if they just have a question about is this a scam or is this legitimate business they can also call the indiana attorney general’s office at 1800-382-5516