TENNESSEE (WJHL) – With Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declaring a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic and horrific tornado damage, the state attorney general’s office is working to protect Tennesseans from price-gouging.
Officials with the state attorney generals office said since Friday, they have fielded 30 calls and emails regarding consumer issues related to the coronavirus and 28 complaints have been filed on the issue.
Tennessee law dictates that price-gouging is unlawful in circumstances of great need, such as a state of emergency.
“Tennessee’s price gouging laws make it unlawful for individuals and businesses to charge unreasonable prices for essential goods and services, including gasoline, in direct response to a disaster regardless of whether the emergency occurred in Tennessee or elsewhere. The price gouging law makes it unlawful to charge a price that is grossly in excess of the price charged prior to the emergency.”Tennessee Price-Gouging Act of 2002
Deputy Attorney General Jeff Hill told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais if the price for a necessary item in a time of need were to be raised “in gross excess,” that would be unlawful.
“For certain items such as emergency supplies and medical supplies that, such as anti-bacterial products, are covered by the price gouging statutes and then the price, if a price is offered that is engrossed, grossly in excess of what was charged before the incident is charged, then that is price-gouging,” Hill explained. “So basically, if somebody is selling hand sanitizer for a price that’s in gross excess to what it was charged a few weeks ago, that can be price gouging.”
Hill emphasized that not every case that might resemble price-gouging is, in fact, that.
“So ‘grossly in excess’ is not specifically defined, so I think there are things that we can look for to determine what is grossly in excess but I can tell you that if their increase price to the business, if it costs them more to get the goods, then they can pass that cost on to the consumer, that is not included in price gouging,” he said. “So if it costs, you know if you’re selling a good for $5, and it suddenly costs you $6 to get it, you’re able to charge and pass that on to the consumer and that will not be price gouging.”
The state attorney general’s office adds that Tennessee’s unfair or deceptive acts or practices law makes it illegal to “unreasonably [raise] prices or unreasonably [restrict] supplies of essential goods, commodities or services in direct response to…a natural disaster,” even if the event occurs out-of-state.
“When we first look into complaints, our first goal, our immediate goal, is to stop the price gouging. If it’s questionable or something like that, we may not take further action because it may not rise to the level of the need to take further action. The conduct stopped. We will generally, if it is price gouging, we’ll generally try to get money back to the consumer who paid it, but that may be where it ends, however, in real price gouging situations, in egregious situations, we will follow through and we are a civil enforcement agency, not criminal, so we’re not putting anybody in jail but what we can do is sue the person or the business that engaged in the behaviour and we can get money back to consumers. We civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and we can get an injuction stopping the conduct.Deputy Attorney General Jeff Hill
Hill told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that consumers should look for prices that they think are unreasonable and be as specific as possible when you file a complaint, take a picture of it, it’s preferable so the attorney general’s office can see exactly where it is, what the price was and what the product was and file a complaint with the division of consumer affairs in the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.
“I encourage people to file a complaint, and we can’t do anything if we don’t know about it, so and be as specific as you can in the complaint, take pictures of the price and the item and then let us know what’s going on, and we will follow up and see what we can find out,” Hill added. “Obviously we’re taking it very seriously and in the right circumstances, in the circumstances that need it, we will take aggressive action to stop it, and it’s sad that some people take advantage of others during these times. Most people don’t but we will jump to it when we hear about this happening to protect Tennesseans.”
To file a complaint, click HERE.