Over the last month, our office has assessed all of its responsibilities so that it can work with consumers and our partners in state government to ensure West Virginia is best prepared to fight the coronavirus.
For us, that means enforcing the state’s consumer law, maintaining the integrity of the supply channel, fighting price gouging and protecting West Virginians from scams.
These are important issues, and I have directed our staff to leave no stone unturned to protect the state and her consumers.
I want to first quiet people’s fears about their ability to get food and other basic supplies: Based on our conversations with major retailers and experts in this field, the supply chain in this nation and in West Virginia remains sound.
When shoppers go into stores and see empty shelves, realize this is temporary.
Within just a day or so most shelves will be refilled. It may mean additional trips to the store.
This pandemic is a huge challenge and is unprecedented; however, this nation has enough food and other supplies to see us through any need for self-quarantining, natural disaster or other emergency.
Most West Virginian businesses are doing the right thing by ensuring their products are available at a fair price for consumers, including our most vulnerable citizens.
However, there will always be bad apples among us. Our office has received dozens of reports of price gouging since laws prohibiting such activity took effect beginning March 4 with this month’s state of preparedness and state of emergency declarations.
It’s important to understand what price gouging means in West Virginia.
The state’s price gouging law makes it unlawful for any person, business or contractor to inflate the price of food items, essential consumer items and emergency supplies by more than 10 percent of what the items sold for 10 days prior to the declaration of a state of preparedness or emergency.
If someone believes they have witnessed or been the victim of price gouging, it is very important that they file a consumer complaint on our website – www.wvago.gov – or call our toll free consumer protection hotline at 1-800-368-8808.
We take price gouging seriously, and our office’s investigators review all allegations of wrongdoing. If we determine a merchant has engaged in price gouging, we will aggressively enforce the law. Thieves should be on notice and expect no leniency.
Travel and event cancellations present another concern. Consumers who experience a cancellation should request a refund or other accommodation. Should relief be denied, the consumer can file a written complaint with our office. Our team can then research the matter and respond appropriately should we discover violations of the state’s consumer protection laws.
Finally, scammers will use any opportunity, including a global pandemic, to prey on people.
These criminals use fake emails, texts and social media posts as a ruse to take people’s money and get their personal, identifiable information. Sometimes they pose as a bogus charity designed to aid coronavirus victims.
Some even claim to have coronavirus prevention, treatment and cures. However, ask yourself: If a medical breakthrough does occur, what is the likelihood you would first learn of it through an ad or sales pitch?
Be cautious with any unsolicited email, phone call or other forms of communication. Never share sensitive data or agree to send cash, wire money or provide numbers associated with a credit/debit card, gift card or bank account without verifying the legitimacy of the recipient.
If all West Virginians follow the health precautions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control, and take into account the consumer tips above, we will all be in a better position to defeat this virus, while also protecting our wallets.
Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.