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AG Nessel Extends Consumer Protection Hotline Operations to Track Price-gouging Complaints Related to COVID-19
March 16, 2020
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel today extended the hours of operation for her Consumer Protection intake team as the number of price-gouging complaints received by her office surges to more than 240 during the state’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.
Phonelines will be open until 11 p.m. today and Tuesday. The extended hours will be evaluated on a daily basis and continued if necessary to meet demands. (Note: The consumer tip line is generally open between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.)
As of 1 p.m. Friday, the Attorney General’s office had received 75 price-gouging complaints related to COVID-19 that were submitted electronically. That number had increased to 181 as of 4 p.m. today.
Between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. today, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection team had received 60 complaints via phone.
“I will not allow consumers to be taken advantage of during a public emergency,” Nessel said. “I encourage consumers to continue filing complaints with my office so that we can properly investigate these complaints and determine what legal action must be taken.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order Sunday to specifically address price-gouging related to COVID-19. That order states the following:
- No one who has acquired any product from a retailer shall resell that product in this state at a price that is grossly in excess of the purchase price at which they bought the product;
- No one shall offer for sale or sell any product in this state at a price that is more than 20 percent higher than what the person offered or charged for that product as of March 9, 2020 unless the person demonstrates that the price increase is attributable to an increase in the cost of bringing the product to market;
- Person means an individual, business or other legal entity;
- Product means any good, material, emergency supply or consumer food item;
- These restrictions will remain in place until 11:59 p.m. April 13, 2020 unless circumstances change.
“We are seeing an extremely high volume of calls coming in about price-gouging, and here is my message to those businesses: I will not hesitate to fully prosecute establishments that are breaking the law and violating the Michigan Consumer Protection Act or Gov. Whitmer’s executive order,” Nessel said. “We intend to investigate all consumer reports related to price-gouging during this public emergency, and justice will be delivered swiftly and accordingly.”
In addition to the executive order, retailers may violate the Michigan Consumer Protection Act if they are:
- Charging the consumer a price that is grossly in excess of the price at which similar property or services are sold; and
- Causing coercion and duress as the result of the time and nature of a sales presentation.
Some of the common items that have reportedly been subject to price-gouging include toilet paper, meat, milk, bread, bottled water, face masks, hand sanitizers, and cleaning supplies.
Michigan residents are urged to report any violation of the Consumer Protection Act online or by calling 877-765-8388.
Information around the COVID-19 outbreak is changing rapidly. The latest public health information is available online at a state website focused on the issue, and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.