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State logs 3,800 price-gouging complaints; products include masks, meat and milk

About 60% of the complaints received since early March have been phoned in; products mentioned include milk, eggs, toilet paper, ground beef and masks.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — More than 3,800 complaints of price gouging have been logged by the state Attorney General’s office related to the coronavirus pandemic, with milk, toilet paper and ground beef among the items frequently cited.

As of Tuesday morning, 3,837 complaints have been received, said Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for the Michigan attorney general’s office.  About 60% of the complaints were phoned in.

“Most of the gouging complaints tend to be about milk, eggs, toilet paper and ground beef,’’ Jarvi said.  

RELATED: From masks to meat - price gougers and scammers thrive amid pandemic

Online scams continue; a Grand Rapids man recently complained about paying nearly $30 for alcohol cleaning wipes that never arrived.

“In times of emergency, people should not be taken advantage of,’’ said state Rep. Brandt Iden, who last month introduced a bill targeting price gouging.

RELATED: Crooks cooking up coronavirus scams could face 30 years in prison

He said a recent executive order requiring people to wear face masks in stores could promote a new round of price-gouging for personal protective equipment.

“We’ve seen that as it relates to people buying masks,’’ said Iden, R-Oshtemo Township. “We all believe that consumers need to be protected.’’

Iden introduced a bill making it a misdemeanor to resell a product in Michigan priced more than 20 percent above the March 9 price. It covers items with a fair market value of less than $1,000 or any emergency supply.

Iden said components of his bill were included in an executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, making legislative action unnecessary. 

It makes price gouging during the state of emergency a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“We did not want consumers out there being taken advantage of during this pandemic,’’ he said.

Iden said his office has received complaints about people hoarding items and selling them online at jacked-up prices. Face masks, he says, remain a concern.

“I’ve seen people post things on eBay where you can get a mask, but they’re $20 a mask if you want them shipped overnight or something like that,’’ he said. “Obviously the administration saw that as a problem, as did the legislature.’’

Attorney General Dana Nessel has issued news releases about ‘cease and desist’ letters sent to businesses accused of inflating prices.

She accused home improvement chain Menards of price gouging based on consumer complaints about face masks, bleach and other products being sold at excessive prices.

Nessel also took aim at online sellers operating storefronts though Amazon. The businesses significantly increased the prices of products like face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray. Shipping costs also were inflated, she said.

“This public health emergency is not an excuse for businesses to take advantage of people and profit from fear,''  Nessel said in a news release. "Those who try will be held accountable.’’

On Tuesday, Nessel’s office warned about a website called OkHomeOnline selling face masks, alcohol-based cleaning wipes, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other products in high demand, with less than favorable results.

A Grand Rapids man said he ordered alcohol cleaning wipes from the online site, but they did not arrive. “Looks like they took orders, collected money and shut down,’’ he wrote in an online complaint to Nessel’s office. “My bank account was debited for the sale.’’

Total loss? $29.98.

“Consumers should always be careful when shopping online, but being cautious is especially important in a time like this when public anxiety is high and scammers are looking to profit off fear,” Nessel said in a news release.

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