As consumers react to COVID-19, state officials warn of price gouging, investment scams

Empty shelves at the Bluff Street Smith's Food & Drug location, St. George, Utah, March 13, 2020 | Photo by Ron Chaffin, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — State officials announced over the weekend that among other concerns related to the new coronavirus, many consumers are reporting instances of price gouging. Investment scams related to the pandemic have also been a concern.

A photo of empty shelves at the St. George Costco, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Doug Solstad, St. George News

“Utahns are reporting price gouging (or increasing prices much higher than reasonable or fair) on supplies that are in limited supply in stores,” the Utah Attorney General’s Office said in a Facebook post Saturday. “The items include: toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula.

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection said under Utah’s Price Controls Under Emergencies Act, such price gouging is against the law. The penalty for this offense is $1,000 fine per incidence.

Walmart released a statement Thursday that mentioned their new cleaning policies, as well as addressing the gouging issues.

“We’re dedicated to keeping stores stocked and prices fair,” the statement read. “We’re working hard to replenish cleaning supplies, paper products, and other in-demand items as quickly as possible—and at our everyday low prices. We’re taking a firm stance against price gouging from third-party sellers.”

The Utah Attorney General’s Office requested that if any consumers notice price gouging happening, they should contact the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 800-721-7233 or consumerprotection@utah.gov.

In addition to price gouging, the Utah Department of Commerce has warned investors against con artists capitalizing on fear and uncertainty.

According to a press release from the department, “con artists use any means available to increase their odds of taking advantage of their marks, and coronavirus gives them a chance to cloak their scheme with an air of immediacy and legitimacy.”

Tom Brady, director of the Utah Division of Securities, advised caution when dealing with high pressure sales pitches that offer “safer, guaranteed investments” in light of the coronavirus.

“If you have concerns about your investments or retirement savings, talk to your financial professional,” Brady said in the press release.

Brady urged Utahns to remember three basic rules of investing to protect themselves. He said:

First, no investment can offer a ‘no-risk, guaranteed-return.’ All investments carry risk, and the potential to lose some or even all of your money. Secondly, high pressure tactics and investments that remain available only if you ‘act now’ or for a ‘limited time’ should be met with skepticism. If someone puts you on the spot, don’t be afraid to walk away. Finally, is the person offering the investment, and is the investment itself, properly licensed and registered? Licensed investment professionals have a fiduciary responsibility to you, and risk disciplinary action for offering improperly registered investments.

Parker urged people with concerns about the validity of an investment opportunity to contact the Securities Division at the Department of Commerce at 801-530-6600 or their website.

Additional COVID-19 information resources

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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