Acting AG Bruck warns of price gouging and other disaster-related fraud after tropical storm Ida
Acting AG Bruck warns of price gouging and other catastrophes
Fraud after Tropical Storm Ida
NEWARK – Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Department of Consumer Affairs (“the Department”) today warned local residents to beware of price gouging and consumer fraud after Governor Murphy declared a state of emergency over Tropical Storm Ida.
“New Jersey residents recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Ida shouldn’t face price cuts by those trying to take advantage of tragedy and uncertainty,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “We will do everything we can to combat this unfair and illegal practice.”
“Our message is clear: if you exploit the victims of this tragedy, we will find you and make you pay,” said Deputy Attorney General Bruck. “Our laws prohibit price gouging and consumer fraud, and we will crack down on anyone who illegally wants to benefit from the vulnerability of others in times of need.”
“We will not allow anyone to unlawfully raise the price of food, gas, hotel rooms, generators or any other necessary item or service or otherwise financially exploit residents while they are recovering from the storm damage,” said Sean P. Neafsey, Acting Director, Consumer Affairs. “In times of need we should all look for ways to help those in need and not take advantage of them. Residents are encouraged to report any suspicion of price gouging or consumer fraud immediately. The consumer affairs department is ready to hold violations accountable. “
Tips on price gouging:
New Jersey’s Price Gouging Act prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency and for 30 days after it has ended.
An excessive price increase is any price that exceeds 10 percent of the price that the product or service sold in the normal course of business prior to the state of emergency.
Price gouging violations can result in civil penalties of up to $ 10,000 for the first violation and $ 20,000 for the second and subsequent violations. Offenders may also be required to pay consumer refunds, attorney fees, investigation fees and injunctive relief. Every single sale of goods is considered a separate and clear violation.
Home Repair Tips:
Natural disaster victims often face thousands of dollars’ worth of repairs to make their homes habitable again. Homeowners can protect themselves from dishonest builders by following these tips:
- Shop around and receive at least three written estimates. Ask the contractors if they have liability insurance (as required by law) and if they will be subcontracting the project.
- Call the Consumer Service Center for Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846 or 973-504-6200 to find out if the contractor you are considering is registered or has been the subject of complaints and / or government action.
- Look for red flags. Be careful if a contractor tells you that he or she needs a large payment before starting the repairs, insists on cash, or tells you that a written contract is not required – an oral agreement will do. Contracts for home improvement projects of USD 500 or more must be made in writing.
- Avoid contractors who don’t have a fixed location to go to when needed. All contractors must be registered with Consumer Affairs. When hiring a contractor, make sure you have names, addresses, phone numbers, license plates, and vehicle descriptions for everyone who will work on your home. If a problem arises, this information will help law enforcement agencies find the contractor.
- Before letting in someone who claims to have been sent by a utility company to inspect your home, ask for ID. Utility and reputable company representatives are required to provide proper identification. If in doubt, call the company to verify the identity of the employee.
If you believe that price gouging or other disaster-related fraud is occurring, contact the Consumer Affairs Department at (973) 504-6240. Please leave your name, contact information, type of complaint, and as much information about the person or company you are complaining about, including their name and location. If there is suspicion of price gouging, consumers should, if possible, note the price of a good or service before the state of emergency is declared and the price after the state of emergency has been declared when submitting a complaint. Investigators will endeavor to deal with the complaint as quickly as possible.
The mission of the Department of Consumer Affairs within the Department of Law and Public Safety is to protect the public from fraud, fraud, misrepresentation, and professional misconduct in the sale of goods and services in New Jersey through education, advocacy, regulation, and enforcement. The division pursues its mission through its 51 professional and professional boards that oversee 720,000 licensees in the state, its regulated business department that oversees 60,000 NJ-registered businesses, and its consumer protection bureau, securities bureau, charity registration department, office of weights and measures and legalized games of chance.
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