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NJ Attorney General Warns Against Price Gouging and Other Disaster-Related Fraud in the Wake of Tropical Storm Ida

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photo by Boyd Loving

the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Ridgewood NJ, Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Division of Consumer Affairs (“the Division”) today alerted residents to beware of price gouging and consumer fraud following Governor Murphy’s declaration of a State of Emergency related to Tropical Storm Ida.

“New Jerseyans recovering from the after-effects of Hurricane Ida should not be faced with price gouging from those who try 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 prey on the victims of this tragedy, we will find you and we will make you pay,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “Our laws prohibit price gouging and consumer fraud, and we will crack down on anyone who seeks to illegally profit from others’ vulnerability in a time of need.”

“We will not allow anyone  to unlawfully increase prices for food, gas, hotel rooms, generators, or other necessary items or services, or otherwise take financial advantage of residents as they struggle to recover from the storm damage,” said Sean P. Neafsey, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “In times of emergency, we should all be looking for ways to help those in need, not take advantage of them. Residents are encouraged to immediately report any suspected instance of price gouging or consumer fraud. The Division of Consumer Affairs stands ready to hold violators accountable.”

Tips on Price Gouging:

New Jersey’s price gouging law prohibits excessive price increases during a declared State of Emergency and for 30 days after its termination.

An excessive price increase is any price that exceeds 10 percent of the price the product or service was sold during the normal course of business prior to the State of Emergency.

Price-gouging violations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for the second and subsequent offenses. Violators may also be required to pay consumer restitution, attorney’s fees, investigative fees, and injunctive relief. Each individual sale of merchandise is considered a separate and distinct violation.

Tips on Home Repairs:

 Victims of natural disasters are often faced with thousands of dollars’ worth of repairs to make their homes habitable again. Homeowners can protect themselves from dishonest home improvement contractors by heeding the following tips:

Shop around and obtain at least three written estimates. Ask the contractors if they have liability insurance (as required by law) and whether they will be using subcontractors on the project.

Call Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Service Center 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 action by the State.

Look for red flags. Be wary if a contractor tells you that he or she needs a large payment before the home repair work can begin, insists that you pay cash, or tells you a written contract is not necessary – that a verbal agreement is enough. Contracts for home improvement projects costing $500 or more must be in writing.

Avoid contractors that don’t have a fixed location that you can go to, if needed. All home improvement contractors must be registered with Consumer Affairs. If you hire a contractor, make sure you get names, addresses, phone numbers, license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions for all individuals working on your home. If a problem does occur, this information will help law enforcement locate the contractor.

Before you let in anyone who claims to have been sent by a utility company to inspect your home, ask for identification. Representatives of utilities and reputable businesses will have proper identification. When in doubt, call the company to verify the identity of the worker.

For more tips on how to avoid flood-related fraud, visit the Division’s website.

If you believe price gouging or other disaster-related fraud is occurring, contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at (973) 504-6240. Please leave your name, contact information, nature of the complaint, and as much information about the individual or business you are complaining about that you have, including the name and location. In cases of suspected price gouging, when possible, consumers should note the price of a good or service prior to the declared state of emergency, and the price after the state of emergency has been declared, when filing a complaint. Investigators will work to address the complaint as quickly as possible.

Consumers are also encouraged to file complaints online by visiting the Division’s website.

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