Price gouging: How often is it happening in PA?

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) – As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wage on, residents across the state have seen an increase in prices of items in several retail stores.

Residents have been filing complaints of price gouging, which is when a company or vendor raises the price of goods by more than 20 percent of the average cost.

Sarah Frasch, chief deputy attorney for the Bureau of Consumer Protection division of PA’s Attorney General Office, says there are statutes in place to prevent this from happening.

“The main statute that guides businesses is the Pennsylvania Price Gouging Act, that statute specifically dictates what businesses can and can’t do with respect to pricing increase under a declaration of an emergency,” stated Frasch. “It gives our bureau the authority to investigate through the office, with the authority to bring enforcement actions if there are violations.”

The Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law is another statute that ensures companies are not taking advantage of consumers.

Items like masks, disinfectant wipes and spray, and gloves are among common items Deputy Chief Frasch has seen filed as complaints of price gouging. And while supply and demand has an effect on the market, there are stipulations on how much a company can mark up their prices.

“The way that the law is enacted, it says that you look seven days prior to that, you see what the average price was and you compare it to what you’re selling now, you can’t mark it up more than 10 percent,” says Frasch

Frasch goes on to say that high distribution costs are giving companies a way to pass on extra costs onto consumer goods.

“If their distribution cost are going up, then the retailers that are selling the product have to get it at a higher cost, which that’s what we’re seeing now, and they can pass that extra cost onto the consumer.”

Locally, an Altoona department store was cited for selling $3.75/gallon bleach for $6.25, while a drug store in State College reportedly increased its $12 price on a 12-roll of toilet paper to $21.99. Both received cease and desist letters.

Across the state, as of April 9, there have been 3,780 consumer complaints, and 227 cease and desist letters issued.

The Deputy Chief encourages residents to continue sending in their complaints.

“The easiest way to get in touch with us is by sending us an email at pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov, including the name of the product, the price of the product, the name of the store and the location of the store, and any pictures they want to send along would be helpful.”

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