Ocean County Press Release

AS MORE AND more stores report shortages of soap, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, bottled water, cleansers and toilet paper, Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari warned businesses that price gouging will not be tolerated.

"We have zero tolerance for price gouging," Vicari said. "When the governor declared a state of emergency it included specific safeguards and severe penalties for price gouging."

Vicari, Chairman of Consumer Affairs for the county, said consumers making purchases at both brick-and-mortar stores as well as online are protected under the state's Consumer Fraud Act.

"It is unconscionable that anyone would prey on customers who are simply trying to protect themselves and their loved ones," Vicari said.

Stephen Scaturro, director of the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs said his staff is already on the lookout for artificially inflated prices.

"We've got boots on the ground looking for problems and we're ready to respond to any complaints," Scaturro said. "As soon as the governor issued his state of emergency I sent investigators out to make sure stores were complying with the law," Scaturro said.

Under state law, merchants during a time of emergency may not increase prices by more than 10 percent, he said.

As of Wednesday morning, Scaturro said his office received two complaints of price gouging.

"Someone called to complain that a dollar store was selling bottles of hand sanitizer for $4.99 each. Our investigator found the store had paid a wholesale price of $3.99 per bottle, so there was no price gouging," Scaturro said.

The second complaint, still under investigation, involves the cost of surgical masks at a local retailer, he said.

Vicari said the department is responding "instantly" to any complaints it receives.
"We're not letting any of this fester," he said.

Vicari said any resident that feels he or she has been the victim of price gouging should call the Department of Consumer Affairs at 732-929-2105.

"If you're in a store and feel you must buy needed supplies even if the cost seems inflated, save your receipts and contact our offices," Vicari said.

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