TRENTON – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and social distancing measures remain in effect, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal recently announced a series of Virtual Town Hall Meetings that, despite the public health crisis, will provide an opportunity for continued community engagement with law enforcement.
The Attorney General’s 21 County, 21st Century Community Policing Project, “21/21” for short, is designed to sustain a continuum of public engagement with law enforcement in every county. Each of the planned Town Hall Meetings focus on important COVID-19 topics, past sessions discussed services for victims and survivors, recovery and addiction resources, and law enforcement’s response to the pandemic.
The fourth of the Virtual Town Hall Meetings is scheduled for Tuesday, May 19, at 12 p.m. The session will focus on fraud prevention, education and enforcement efforts during COVID-19. Attorney General Grewal will be joined by Craig Carpenito, United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Christopher J. Gramiccioni, Monmouth County Prosecutor, Tracy M. Thompson, Acting Insurance Fraud Prosecutor and Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. The program will educate the public on COVID-19-related fraud, price gouging and scams and the state-federal task force established to crack down on fraud. Participants will learn the steps to safeguard themselves from scams and understand how to help officials combat these activities by properly reporting.
Anyone wishing to participate in Tuesday’s virtual event can do so by registering here.
“We have received thousands and thousands of complaints from New Jerseyans who feel that they have been taken advantage of during the current pandemic. We are committed to investigating every complaint and will take swift action against those that break the law,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “From price gouging to charity and investment scams to hoarding of medical supplies and procurement fraud, we want New Jersey residents to know their rights, how to recognize the most common scams, and to know where and how to report any questionable activity.”
To date, the Division of Consumer Affairs has logged a total of 4,732 complaints related to the COVID-19 emergency against 2,535 locations. More than 85 percent of the complaints allege unlawful price hikes on essential items like food, bottled water, cleaning products, and personal protective equipment such as masks, disinfectants and sanitizers. Approximately 975 cease-and-desist letters have been sent, warning retailers about the penalties for violating New Jersey’s price-gouging law, and the Consumer Fraud Act’s protections from gross and unreasonable inflation of the price of any product during a state of emergency. In addition, the Division has issued 104 subpoenas to retailers and online market places reported by consumers for allegedly engaging in unfair price increases and other alleged unscrupulous practices.www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/Pages/Consumer-Complaints.aspx
In March, the New Jersey COVID-19 Fraud Task Force was formed to marshal the collective investigative power of federal and state law enforcement agencies by forming joint investigative and prosecution teams to quickly address fraud complaints. Residents are encouraged to report possible misconduct through a hotline established by the National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721 or
www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/webform/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form. Complainants may remain anonymous.
Announced in April 2018, the Attorney General’s “21/21 Project” was conceived as a way to promote stronger police-community relations by bringing together law enforcement and community stakeholders in every county for face-to-face town hall meetings, roundtable discussions and other outreach events.
With social distancing measures in place and non-essential travel discouraged, however, such public gatherings are not possible.
In the midst of the pandemic, the planned Virtual Town Hall Meetings are both a way to maintain law enforcement-community engagement, and a means of addressing key COVID-related issues and public questions in real time. All sessions are recorded and translated into Spanish for our 21/21 Town Hall Archive.