NEWARK – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced actions against a dozen merchants for consumer protection violations related to COVID-19, with penalties totaling tens of thousands of dollars. Among those subject to enforcement actions are two North Jersey businesses that allegedly made false or unsubstantiated claims in the sale of COVID-19 antibody tests and a Monmouth County business that was selling face masks at as much as six times the manufacturer’s retail prices.
These actions are the latest of many taken by the Division to address the unprecedented number of consumer complaints and referrals received during the current public health emergency.
To date, the Division has sent 1,884 cease and desist letters to retailers suspected of price gouging and other unconscionable business practices during the coronavirus pandemic, and issued 110 subpoenas seeking additional information in its investigations of alleged violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we made clear that we would take a tough stand on price gouging and other abuses of New Jersey consumers,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Enlisting the help of residents to report unconscionable practices works. Most businesses are following the law. For those that are not, these actions are a reminder that the penalties for violations are significant.”
The Notices of Violation (NOVs) filed in this latest round of enforcement actions carry individual penalties ranging from $500 to $12,500, depending on the severity and number of violations.
The single largest civil penalty was assessed against Performance Supply LLC, for allegedly making false and misleading statements in advertising N95 mask respirators for sale to personnel from the New York City Office of Citywide Procurement. The Division alleges that the company’s quote misleadingly suggested the company is an authorized dealer or distributor for 3M Company and offered to sell seven million face masks that retailed between $1.02 and $1.31 for $6.05 and $6.35 each.
Two businesses were cited for making false or unsubstantiated claims in the sale of COVID-19 antibody tests. Hudson Drug of Cresskill was assessed $3,000 in civil penalties for advertising that the COVID-19 antibody tests it sold were suitable for at-home use, contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions. Retro Fitness of Rockaway was assessed a $2,000 civil penalty for allegedly making unsubstantiated claims related to antibody testing made available to club members via a health and wellness center affiliated with the club.
“The Division is working tirelessly during this pandemic to protect consumers from threats to their health in the form of unsubstantiated claims and predatory pricing on personal protective equipment,” said Acting Director Paul R. Rodríguez. “We are committed to reviewing and investigating every complaint to ensure that merchants operate responsibly and refrain from unscrupulous behaviors, including violating our price gouging laws, at a time when many New Jerseyans are facing significant financial hardship.
New Jersey’s price-gouging law, which took effect on March 9 upon Governor Murphy’s declaration of a state of emergency, prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency and for 30 days after its termination. A price increase is considered excessive if the new price is more than 10 percent higher than the price charged during the normal course of business prior to the state of emergency, and the increased price is not attributable to additional costs imposed by the seller's supplier or additional costs of providing the product or service during the state of emergency.
Price-gouging and other consumer fraud violations are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first violation and $20,000 for the second and subsequent violations. Violators may also be required to pay consumer restitution, attorney’s fees, and investigative fees, and will be subject to injunctive relief.
The following merchants received NOVs and were assessed civil penalties for alleged price gouging on essential items such as bottled water, rice, face masks and disinfectant spray:
- Performance Supply LLC, 3 Westbrook Way, Manalapan, $12,500
- Bravo Supermarket, Inc., 1567 E. State Street, Trenton, $5,750
- Food Fair La Gran Marqueta, 946-956 Market Street, Paterson, $5,250
- Siya Cash and Carry LLC, 175 Tonnelle Avenue, Jersey City, $1,750
- Super Fresh Pine Tree Supermarket, 19 Belleville Avenue, Bloomfield, $1,250
- Compare Foods Super Market, 847 Roebling Avenue, Trenton, $1,250
The following merchants received NOVs and were each assessed $500 in civil penalties for their alleged failure to post selling prices for merchandise such as bottled water, toilet paper and sanitizers, a violation of the Merchandise Pricing Statute:
Consumers who suspect consumer fraud violations, or believe that businesses have unfairly increased their prices in response to COVID-19, are encouraged to file complaints online to report specific details related to the increased prices. Photographs of items being sold, their price, and receipts can now be uploaded to our new price gouging complaint form.
The mission of the Division of Consumer Affairs, within the Department of Law and Public Safety, is to protect the public from fraud, deceit, misrepresentation and professional misconduct in the sale of goods and services in New Jersey through education, advocacy, regulation and enforcement. The Division pursues its mission through its 51 professional and occupational boards that oversee 720,000 licensees in the state, its Regulated Business section that oversees 60,000 NJ registered businesses, as well as its Office of Consumer Protection, Bureau of Securities, Charities Registration section, Office of Weights and Measures, and Legalized Games of Chance section.