State of emergency declared in Spokane County, essential goods and services include shelter, water, groceries and medical supplies
Today Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued the following warning to area businesses and hotels that his office is on the lookout for price increases on essential goods and services aimed at exploiting the misfortune of Washingtonians impacted by the wildfires.
He is alerting Washingtonians to be on the lookout for price gouging on essential goods and services and to report price gouging to his office.
“My office will use every legal tool at our disposal to stop predatory and unconscionable price increases imposed on essential goods and services that are intended to increase profits by exploiting Washingtonians impacted by wildfire,” Ferguson said. “This includes shelter for Washingtonians who have lost their homes, water, groceries and medical supplies.
“I am encouraging anyone who sees price gouging to snap a photo or take a screenshot, and then include the image with the complaint they file at the Attorney General’s website through our complaint portal. Spokane-area retailers should file complaints if the cost of the goods they purchase increase for reasons that appear driven by profit.
“It is unfair, deceptive and cruel to exploit increased demand as a result of an emergency in order to increase profits. My office will hold price gougers accountable.”
Washingtonians can file complaints at the Attorney General’s website here: https://www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.
Violations of Washington’s Consumer Protection Act carry a maximum civil penalty of $7,500 per violation. Consumers can file consumer protection lawsuits seeking up to three times their economic damages.
Washington does not have a statute specifically referencing price gouging — not even during declared states of emergency. However, attempting to exploit a natural disaster for the sake of profit and harming consumers impacted by the emergency may be addressed as an unfair or deceptive practice under the Consumer Protection Act.
Attorney General’s price-gouging enforcement
In the spring of 2020 more than 1,300 Washingtonians filed complaints with the office following the declaration of a public health emergency. Washingtonians complained about extreme price increases for face masks, hand sanitizer and other products necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For example, some Washingtonians reported paying $40 for an 8-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer that had recently cost $3.50, or $42 for face masks that used to cost $8.
Ferguson launched a “See It, Snap It, Send It” campaign to combat illegal price gouging. Investigators in the Attorney General’s Office followed up on leads by visiting hundreds of businesses all over the state. The office sent nine warning and 14 cease-and-desist letters to price-gouging businesses.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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