Complaints keep rising during COVID-19 pandemic
DES MOINES ― Attorney General Tom Miller’s office has created a new form for consumers to report price gouging, as the number of reports continues to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consumers can complete the form on the attorney general’s website. Consumers are asked to fill out the form as completely as possible and to attach photos, receipts, advertisements or other supporting documents to the form.
“The new form will enable investigators to get more specific information about products, services and prices, to help us enforce this rule,” Miller said.
For complaints not involving price gouging, consumers can continue to use the standard complaint form.
As of Monday, the office’s Consumer Protection Division has received 70 formal and more than 200 informal complaints about excessive pricing at retail stores, online sites and social media platforms. The most frequent complaints involve medical masks and respirators, toilet paper or other paper products, hand sanitizer and cleaning products.
For complaints that have potential merit, investigators in the Attorney General’s Office are contacting sellers and asking for more information. Office personnel are also posting warnings on social media postings that appear to be in violation, and in some cases are contacting individual online sellers. The office will issue cease and desist letters to anyone who is clearly price-gouging and consider further legal action to those that refuse to comply.
Businesses or individuals found in violation could face civil penalties of up to $40,000 under the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act.
“We won’t hesitate to take further action to protect Iowans,” Miller said.
Miller has also sent letters with 32 other attorneys general to urge Amazon, Facebook, Ebay, Walmart, and Craigslist to more rigorously monitor price-gouging practices by online sellers using their services.
A disaster declaration triggers the state’s price-gouging rule, which forbids excessive prices for goods or services “needed by victims of disasters.” That includes water, food, medicines, sanitation supplies, utilities, and building materials. An excessive price is one “not justified by the seller’s actual costs of acquiring, producing, selling, transporting, and delivering the actual product sold, plus a reasonable profit.”
The new complaint form was designed for other disaster declarations, including those involving flooding.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller also reminds Iowans to:
Watch out for scams related to the pandemic, including messages that request your personal information in exchange for financial relief or other government-issued benefits. Government agencies will not reach out to you electronically for this information. See other COVID-19 cybersecurity tips to protect yourself from fraud.
Be aware of your rights during this emergency. Gov. Reynolds has issued declarations that assist consumers, including halting foreclosures and most evictions.
To seek help
Consumers should contact the Consumer Protection Division if they have consumer complaints about price gouging or other scams.
Phone: 515-281-5926 (toll-free number outside of the Des Moines area: 888-777-4590)