CHICAGO (CBS) — With people clearing the shelves of many stores across Illinois to stock up on disinfectant, hand sanitizer, and other supplies to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said his office is investigating widespread reports of price-gouging.
“We’ve received calls from residents all over Illinois related to price-gouging. Many calls relate to items tied to the pandemic, such as face masks, disinfectant, disinfectant sprays, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. Some also have involved protective equipment for medical providers,” Raoul said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Raoul said his office has received more than 100 formal complaints over the last few days. The attorney general said his staff is working tirelessly to investigate those reports, and he vowed to use all of the powers available to him to address price-gouging.
“I strongly, strongly urge all businesses to maintain fair pricing on all items, especially those that are crucial to stopping the spread of COVID-19,” Raoul said.
The attorney general’s office will reach out to retailers whenever they see a case of apparent price-gouging to try to mediate a solution, if possible, and if necessary issue a cease-and-desist order, or even go to court to seek an injunction. Any potential penalties for price-gouging would depend on the specific circumstances, according to Raoul.
When Brian Hunt noticed a rise in the cost of toilet paper at convenience stores in his Auburn Gresham neighborhood, he decided to document it and ask store owners why.
When he asked one store owner if he could pay the normal price of 99 cents per roll, instead of the new $1.99 per roll, the owner asked him, “How am I gonna make a profit? How am I gonna pay my workers?”
While prices remained steady in some stores, Hunt said other stores increased their prices 100% to 150%.
“What the hell?” Hunt asked. “It’s unethical. This is a bad time for not just for my community, but for the entire world.”
He was not alone in his outrage. Viewers across the city and the suburbs have sent CBS 2 advertisements for water, paper products, and hand sanitizer that are far from steal deals.
We looked into it. More than 30 states have some form of price-gouging law on the books, but currently the law in Illinois only applies to fuel and petroleum products, which is why Gov. JB Pritzker issued an executive order Monday that prohibits price gouging and gives the Illinois Attorney General enforcement authority. They say they’re going to prioritize medical supplies.
Raoul also noted the governor, as part of his disaster declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic, has granted him additional authority to take action on an cases of unreasonable increases in the prices of medical supplies, protective gear, medication, and any other goods and services connected to the virus outbreak.
“The most important thing that the public can do to assist us is to report incidents of price-gouging to my office, preferably online at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov, in lieu of calling or visiting,” he said.
The attorney general also urged Illinois consumers to be wary of any products marketed as cures or treatments for the novel coronavirus.
“These claims are absolutely false,” Raoul said, noting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have said there is no approved vaccine or medical treatment for COVID-19.
Raoul also urged consumers not to hoard any supplies that would help preventing the spread of COVID-19, to make sure everyone can get the products they need, especially professional health care providers.
“I want to implore people to act as one Illinois, to think of their neighbors, the elderly, and other people who are vulnerable,” Raoul said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An image seen in this story showed Scott Tissue being sold for $49.99. A spokeswoman said this was the cost for a case of 36 individually wrapped rolls with the regular price of $1.39 at Shop & Save. This was not an elevated price. The spokeswoman said the store did not limit the rolls and was responding to customers asking to buy a case of the toilet paper.
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