Virus Outbreak New Jersey

A customer browses aisles Friday, March 20, 2020, while wearing a protective face mask at a Stop & Shop supermarket in Teaneck, N.J.

(The Center Square) – Since New Jersey's price gouging laws came into effect when the state entered a State of Emergency on March 9, the state has received a flood of complaints regarding excessive pricing on items such as surgical masks, gloves, and sanitizing products.

“To date, our Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has received over 1,400 COVID-19 related complaints concerning some 900 distinct business locations across New Jersey," Gurbir Grewal, attorney general, said at a coronavirus briefing this week. "We’ve issued about 160 cease-and-desist letters and served nearly 30 subpoenas."

Of the approximately 350 inspections completed by the DCA, most of the price increases were determined to be appropriate because suppliers have raised the prices on retailers.

"Excessive price increases are defined as those that are more than 10% higher than the price at which merchandise was sold during the normal course of business prior to the state of emergency," Michael Williams, Hunterdon County acting prosecutor, said in a statement. "New Jersey's price gouging law prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency, or for 30 days after the termination of the state of emergency."

People who violate the price gouging laws can expect to pay $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for subsequent offenses, with each sale considered a distinct violation.

In a recent complaint, one convenience store allegedly diluted foaming sanitizer to sell to the public.

"We have to remain vigilant," Grewal said. "I will guarantee you, absolutely guarantee you, that additional fraud cases are going to come.”

“There is a special place in hell for people who take advantage of this health crisis,” Murphy recently said at the news briefing. “There sure is heck no time for it in the war that we’re under.”