April 07, 2020
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What’s the item most likely to be reported for price gouging? You guessed it.

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Toilet paper moves out from a cutting machine at the Tissue Plus factory, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Bangor, Maine. The new company has been unexpectedly busy because of the shortage of toilet paper brought on by hoarders concerned about the coronavirus.

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The Maine Attorney General’s office has received 111 complaints since March 17, when Gov. Janet Mills took steps to address the problem of businesses overcharging customers for necessities during the coronavirus outbreak.

Sixty-three of those complaints to the Consumer Protection Division were reports of alleged price gouging. And toilet paper was the item named most often as being overpriced, Marc Malon, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Tuesday.

Most of the other complaints were related to concerns about daycare providers charging to hold a place for children not attending or canceled travel plans.

Of the 63 price gouging complaints, 34 had to do with convenience stores or small, local supermarkets in York and Cumberland counties allegedly overcharging. A few complaints have been received about high gas prices in a handful of communities in northern Maine.

“I want to stress that these are just complaints, not verified cases,” Malon said. “We look into the complaints to see if they have merit. A complaint does not necessarily mean that the business has violated the law. Sometimes there are misunderstandings.”

[How to grocery shop during the coronavirus outbreak]

Mills last week signed an order prohibiting the sale of certain items at “unconscionable prices” during the coronavirus outbreak.

The order targets seven products regarded as necessities: paper products, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, personal hygiene products, medicine and medical supplies, food and water.

That order limits the sale of these products to no more than 15 percent of their price prior to the outbreak.

The Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act is the law that would be used to enforce Mills price gouging order, according to Malon. Any legal action against a business would be civil rather than criminal but include fines and the possible loss of business licenses.

“Sometimes a conversation is all that is needed, reminding the business of the law,” he said.

In addition to the actions taken by Mills last week, the U.S. Department of Justice ramped up federal prosecutions of virus scammers across the country.

Craig Wolfe, spokesman for the Maine U.S. Attorney’s office, declined Tuesday to comment on how many, if any, cases of fraud related to the coronavirus had been reported in Maine.

Watch: What you need to know about handwashing during coronavirus

 


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