NEWARK – Consumers filed 2,164 complaints last year about alleged price gouging, making such illegal pricing the single largest category of complaints received by the State Division of Consumer Affairs.
The surge in price gouging complaints followed the State of Emergency declared on Oct. 27 for Superstorm Sandy. Consumers filed complaints in the days and weeks following landfall of the storm, alleging that gas stations, hotels, and other businesses had gouged them. Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the Division of Consumer Affairs to date have filed 24 lawsuits against businesses for alleged price gouging.
“We alerted consumers to look out for price gouging before Superstorm Sandy hit and encouraged them to contact us if they saw prices jump more than 10 percent,” Chiesa said. “Our top priority immediately following Sandy was investigating these complaints and we confirmed that a relatively small number of businesses allegedly did gouge consumers.”
Following price gouging, the rest of the Top 10 Consumer Complaint categories for 2012 are as follows:
- #2 Home Improvements – 1,528 complaints
- #3 Motor Vehicles – 1,349 complaints
- #4 Telemarketing – 845 complaints
- #5 Loans – 414 complaints
- #6 Professional Services – 338 complaints
- #7 Debt Collection – 304 complaints
- #8 Internet Sales/Goods – 264 complaints
- #9 Banks/Financial – 240 complaints
- #10 Health Clubs – 214 complaints
Today’s announcement coincides with the beginning of National Consumer Protection Week, which runs this year from March 3 through March 9. The State Division of Consumer Affairs noted consumer price-gouging complaints related to Sandy – 2,164 in only two months – were the top complaint category in 2012. Last year’s second-highest complaint category was Home Improvements, which generated 1,528 consumer complaints during the entire 12 months. Chiesa noted that home improvement-related complaints are expected to increase throughout the long post-Sandy recovery period.
In all, the Division received 14,416 consumer complaints in 2012.
“The Consumer Affairs staff in 2012 demonstrated its unique ability to quickly shift resources to address the influx of price gouging complaints and take swift action to protect consumers when needed most,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “We will continue to protect those New Jersey residents affected by Sandy so they can focus on rebuilding their lives without the fear of being scammed.”
National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. For more information, visit www.NCPW.gov .
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of marketplace abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 1-973-504-6200.