CBS 58 Investigates: State cracks down on price gouging during pandemic
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Last week, House Democrats introduced the COVID-19 Price Gouging Prevention Act to crack down on retailers taking advantage of the Coronavirus pandemic.
In Wisconsin, state agencies are also making sure sellers of things like masks, gloves and toilet paper are keeping prices fair. On March 12, Governor Tony Evers invoked a state law banning price gouging.
“Since that time we’ve received hundreds of complaints about price gouging,” said Lara Sutherlin with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP).
Experts say it’s normal for prices to go up during a crisis, but within reason. According to Wisconsin law, sellers cannot increase prices more than 15 percent higher than prices in the last 60 days, unless there’s a reason.
“There has to be an increased cost to that seller and that has to be verifiable to justify why the price increase,” Sutherlin said.
The director of the Wisconsin Public Interest and Research Group says they are also working to catch price gougers.
“We sent a letter from state legislators all across the country to the five largest online platforms so that includes Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Craigslist, Facebook, to encourage them to take more steps to crackdown on price gouging,” said Peter Skopec, Director of WISPIRG & WISPIRG Foundation.
So far, DATCP says there doesn’t seem to be a huge problem with sellers in the state.
“In terms of the market we think that consumers should rest assured there’s not widespread price gouging,” Sutherlin said.
But DATCP did send 16 letters to companies around the state accused of price gouging. Including n95sales.com, which sold N95 masks. That site has since been taken down.
“We sent out letters asking for justification for the prices and asking for documentation to support those prices,” Sutherlin said.
DATCP is still investigating those cases. Violators could face up to a $10,000 fine.
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