By Dave Savini, Samah Assad
LOMBARD, Ill. (CBS) — The Illinois Attorney General’s Office is investigating more than 900 price-gouging complaints from people across the state who accused businesses of hiking their prices during the coronavirus pandemic.
CBS 2 Investigators have been following the issue closely since since the first cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Illinois. Officials vowed to punish online price-gougers and cited multiple examples of complaints they’ve received, including hand sanitizer being sold on Craigslist for $250 and a package of toilet paper on eBay advertised for an eggregious price $49,900. The latter was removed after officials contacted the web site, they said.
As of Tuesday, there were approximately 924 total complaints in the last month since the pandemic took hold.
We obtained a sample of two dozen complaints to get an idea of what types of products and businesses are being questioned for their pricing. The sample of complaints ranged from March 10 through as recently as March 27.
Out of that sample, we found the majority of consumers complained about prices at grocery stores, markets and gas stations. We did not find a pattern for where the complaints originated – they span cities across the state, including Chicago, Frankfort, Shorewood, Berwyn, and Lombard, among others.
Residents alleged price gouging in a variety of products, from produce to meat, as well as basic sanitary and clearning items.
Some of the allegations we found included:
- Two complaints about less than a gallon of Chlorox bleach being sold for $6.49 at a Shorewood grocery store on March 13 and a gallon being sold for $7.99 at a Frankfort grocery store on March 24, when the consumers said they usually purchase them for $3.94 at most and $3.99, respectively. CBS 2 visited both locations and found the bleach at the Shorewood store was being sold for $6.49.
- On March 13, one person complained about a Chicago food market, claiming it was charging $12.99 for four rolls of toilet paper, “more than double the usual price due to the increased demand during coronavirus pandemic,” the person wrote.
- Another consumer accused a grocery store in Lockport of upping the price of ham. “I went into store and to by [sic] disbelief the prices are outrageous and unacceptable.” They wrote a half of a ham they would usually pay between $22 to $27 for was priced at $55.
- Hand sanitizer being sold for $14.99 at a Lombard gas station on March 24. CBS 2 visited the location and found the hand sanitizer was sold out.
- One person filed a complaint on March 24 about a fresh market in Evergreen Park, claiming, in part, “…everything was double the price and some items were 4 times the price. I could not even afford to buy the groceries so I left without food.”
CBS 2 visited multiple other locations to check some of the claims and found in some cases, prices may have come down since they were initially filed. However, the Attorney General’s Office continues to receive new price gouging complaints every day.
Spokesperson Annie Thompson said they have not yet needed to take enforcement action on the complaints received so far. But in a statement, Thompson said, in part, “We will continue working with businesses during this unprecedented public health crisis and will not hesitate to hold accountable who attempt to profit by engaging in unlawful business practices.”
She also emphasized not every complaint alleging unfair pricing is indicative of an “unlawful price increase,” adding when the attorney general’s office contacts businesses about complaints, they ask for information about pricing, including whether the business has incurred increased supplier costs.
“We are mindful that grocery stores, home supply stores, and gas stations – whether nationally- or independently-owned, are facing challenges in keeping shelves stocked,” the statement said. “In addition many businesses are facing the challenge of retaining and paying employees, and ensuring that they maintain safe working and shopping environments for customers.”
Below is the Attorney General’s Office’s full statement:
“Our office is working diligently to follow up on the approximately 924 complaints related to price gouging that we have received. Not every complaint alleging unfair pricing is necessarily indicative of an unlawful price increase, which is why when we contact businesses, our office asks for information about pricing, such as whether the business has incurred increased supplier costs. We are mindful that grocery stores, home supply stores, and gas stations – whether nationally- or independently-owned – are facing challenges in keeping shelves stocked. In addition, many businesses are facing the challenge of retaining and paying employees, and ensuring that they maintain safe working and shopping environments for customers. We will continue working with businesses during this unprecedented public health crisis and will not hesitate to hold accountable individuals who attempt to profit by engaging in unlawful business practices.”
You can file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General here.