The Christie Administration is warning consumers to look out for price gouging during the State of Emergency related to Hurricane Joaquin and the Nor’easter that is currently impacting New Jersey, and warning merchants and business who raise their prices more that 10% that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
New Jersey law prohibits price increases of more than 10% during a State of Emergency through 30 days after the termination of the emergency. Governor Christie declared a State of Emergency today, October 1, 2015.
“Especially after Superstorm Sandy, no merchant or business can claim ignorance of New Jersey’s price gouging law,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “We will not tolerate anyone taking advantage of the suffering of others.”
“Consumers who suspect price gouging in connection with Hurricane Joaquin, for food, gas, hotel rooms, generators, or other necessary items or services, should contact the Division of Consumer Affairs immediately,” said Steve Lee, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “Division investigators are prepared to act quickly and aggressively to enforce the laws to protect consumers who are dealing with the effects of these storms.”
“Prosecutors across the state already have brought criminal charges against more than 100 defendants who committed fraud in the wake of Superstorm Sandy,” said Elie Honig, Director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. “As the nor’easter and Hurricane Joaquin approaches, we will continue to work with the Division of Consumer Affairs to ensure that wrongdoers are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Price-gouging violations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for the second and subsequent offenses. Each individual sale of merchandise is considered a separate and distinct event.
Consumers who suspect price gouging should contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at 973-504-6240. A special voice mail has been set up to field storm related calls. The messages will be checked regularly, even if State offices are closed.
Following the Superstorm Sandy State of Emergency, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, working with county consumer affairs offices, reviewed more than 2,000 consumer complaints in the days immediately following the landfall of Superstorm Sandy. The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs investigated approximately 200 businesses for alleged price gouging and filed price gouging lawsuits against 27 businesses. All of the lawsuits have been settled, resulting in over $1 million in civil penalties, cost reimbursements to the State, and restitution to consumers. The New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice took action in over 100 cases statewide relating to Superstorm Sandy, bring various criminal charges in price gouging, fraud, and other cases.
Some examples of the matters relating to Superstorm Sandy brought by the Division of Consumer Affairs include the following:
- The Division of Consumer Affairs took action against a hotel that allegedly raised its room rates up to 208 percent following Superstorm Sandy. The hotel allegedly charged $219 after Sandy, for a room that was rented at $71.20 prior to the State of Emergency.
- The Division of Consumer Affairs took action against a gas station that allegedly charged as much as $5.09 per gallon for credit card sales of premium gasoline – an increase of 34.2 percent above the price prior to the State of Emergency.
- The Division of Consumer Affairs took action against a Monmouth County based landscaping company that allegedly sold various models of Powerhouse generators at prices ranging from $800 to $1,550, representing markups of between approximately 82 percent and 155 percent, and also allegedly sold generators that had previously been recalled.