With allegations of price gouging rising around the state, Gov. Janet Mills has issued a Declaration of Abnormal Market Disruption that prohibits certain necessities from being sold at inflated prices during the COVID-19 crisis. The order empowers the Office of the Attorney General to investigate the claims and take swift action if necessary.
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey says there are currently multiple investigations into alleged price gouging underway as demand for certain consumer products heats up.
“For example, we had heard that there was rubbing alcohol at a particular retailer in Brunswick that was selling for $24 for a 32-ounce bottle, which is much higher than you typically see. We heard of a roll of toilet paper going for $10 at a store in Portland,” he says. “People are already anxious enough. The last thing that they should be worried about is being taken advantage of by retailers who are simply looking to make this crisis an economic opportunity.”
Gov. Mills’ declaration specifies the necessities affected by COVID-19 market disruption as paper products, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, personal hygiene products, medicine and medical supplies, food and water. But Frey says his office may also investigate other abuses that aren’t covered in the current order — for example, a child care operator charging parents for services even though the facility is closed.
“We may get reports of different practices related to this crisis that were not contemplated. In that case, we can present this information to the governor and ask for an expanded declaration because we want to be adept at making sure that consumes are protected, they have to be worrying about having to get what they need to get through this crisis,” he says.
Both retail and wholesale sales are affected by the order, which stipulates that such items cannot be sold to consumers at more than 15 percent above the going price just prior to the disruption. Under Maine law, price gouging can warrant restitution as well as a financial penalty.
Consumers who believe they have witnessed price gouging should contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General by calling 1-800-436-2131, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting the attorney general’s website.