DES MOINES, Iowa — Dozens of Iowans are calling and emailing the Iowa Attorney General's office in regards to complaints of price gouging in the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Lynn Hicks with the Attorney General's office, about 128 formal complaints have been filed as of last week in relation to price-gouging, and well over 200 informal complaints (phone calls and emails with tips) had been filed. Price gouging occurs when a seller increases the prices of goods or services to a level much higher than what is considered to be reasonable or fair. It usually happens after a demand or supply shock, as we are seeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Who are complaints about? According to Hicks, "it's all over the board."
"Retail stores, suppliers, online sites and social media platforms," said Hicks. "The most frequent complaints involve medical masks and respirators, toilet paper or other paper products, hand sanitizer and cleaning products. We contacting the sellers as soon as possible for more information. We’re also scouring sites like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Amazon, etc., and warning individuals to take down posts. Most sellers are cooperating, but we will not hesitate to take legal action to stop price-gouging."
In some other states, at-home test coronavirus test kits have been reported. Those are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. So far in Iowa, the Attorney General's office has not received any complaints about the kits.
"Most of the sellers have been cooperative and have removed posts or lowered prices. We’ve sent warnings to others. We’re still investigating many of the complaints," said Hicks.
He also commented that the office has received a few complaints from Iowans regarding travel cancellations.
"What we can do depends on the contract the consumer signed, but they can file a complaint and we’ll do what we can," said Hicks.
There is a new complaint form for Iowans to fill out regarding price gouging so investigators can get more details about the case. You can fill it out here.
Businesses or individuals found in violation could face civil penalties of up to $40,000 under the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act.