More than 100 businesses have received warnings from Maryland’s attorney general after being accused of price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) told the General Assembly’s Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup Wednesday that his office has received hundreds of complaints since a new price gouging law took effect last month.
The law targets businesses that raise the prices of certain goods and services to increase profit by more than 10% during a state of emergency. Violators face civil fines up to $10,000 per violation or be charged criminally.
Frosh said one issue his office has faced so far in enforcing the law is that it is difficult to tell from an item’s price whether the retailer’s profit has increased by more than 10%. In some cases, convenience stores are offering an item ― like toilet paper, hand sanitizer or face masks ― for the first time, so they can charge whatever they want. In other cases, retailers are passing along increased costs from their distributors and not increasing profit, Frosh said.
Almost all of the businesses the Office of the Attorney General has reached out to have responded. Frosh said his office is trying to give businesses several opportunities to comply with the new law to avoid litigation.
Items subject to the price gouging law include food, water, medicine, hygiene products, cleaning supplies, energy sources, home improvement, and child care, among other things.
Frosh said his office is also seeing an increased number of scams related to the pandemic, including several recent complaints related to federal stimulus payments and “cures” for COVID-19.
“Those are flat-out scams, they are fraudulent. There is no cure at the moment,” Frosh said.
COVID-19 scams can be reported to the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division by calling 410-528- 8662, or by filing a report with World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/about/report_scam/en/) or the Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov/complaint).
Price gouging complaints can be filed online at www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov or by calling the consumer protection hotline at 410-528-8662.