OAG, Consumer Affairs fine NJ retailers for consumer protection violations

The Division of Consumer Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General took action against a dozen merchants for consumer protection violations related to COVID-19, including making false claims about COVID-19 antibody tests and pricing N95 masks at six times their retail value, the entities announced Monday. These are the […]

The Division of Consumer Affairs and the Office of the Attorney General took action against a dozen merchants for consumer protection violations related to COVID-19, including making false claims about COVID-19 antibody tests and pricing N95 masks at six times their retail value, the entities announced Monday.

These are the latest of many actions taken by the Division to address 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 illegal business practices during the current pandemic and issued 110 subpoenas seeking additional information in its investigations of alleged violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal holds a press conference on immigration and law enforcement in Newark on Sept. 27, 2019.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal holds a press conference on immigration and law enforcement in Newark on Sept. 27, 2019. – OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL / TIM LARSEN

“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 Gurbir Grewal in a prepared statement. “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 latest round of enforcement actions carry 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 misleading statements in advertising N95 masks for sale to personnel from the New York City Office of Citywide Procurement. The company’s quote misleadingly suggested the company is an authorized dealer or distributor for 3M Co. and offered to sell 7 million face masks that retailed between $1.02 and $1.31 for $6.05 and $6.35 each, the Division alleged.

Hudson Drug of Cresskill was fined $3,000 in civil penalties for advertising that the COVID-19 antibody tests it sold were suitable for at-home use, and Retro Fitness of Rockaway was fined a $2,000 civil penalty for allegedly making unsubstantiated claims related to antibody testing made available to club members via an affiliated health and wellness center.

“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 Rodríguez in a prepared statement. “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 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 price is increased by more than 10 percent above the price charged during the normal course of business.

Price-gouging and other consumer fraud violations are punishable by up to $10,000 for the first violation and $20,000 for the second and subsequent violations. Violators may be required to pay additional consumer restitution, attorney’s fees, and investigative fees, and will be subject to injunctive relief.

The following merchants received notices of violations and were assessed 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 St., Trenton: $5,750
  • Food Fair La Gran Marqueta, 946-956 Market St., Paterson: $5,250
  • Siya Cash and Carry LLC,175 Tonnelle Ave., Jersey City,$1,750
  • Super Fresh Pine Tree Supermarket,19 Belleville Ave., Bloomfield: $1,250
  • Compare Foods Super Market, 847 Roebling Ave., Trenton: $1,250

The following merchants received notices of violations 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:

  • Exxon Gas, 2000 Route 66 E., Neptune
  • News Plus, 138 Baldwin Road, Parsippany
  • Shell, 456 Albin Court, Ridgewood
  • Delta Food Mart, 801 W. Elizabeth Ave., Linden

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