CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is asking consumers to be smart and vigilant as they conduct business during the Coronavirus pandemic.
At a March 16 press conference, Morrisey discussed issues his office is handling during the crisis.
“The coronavirus pandemic presents a challenge like none other,” Morrisey said. “COVID-19 has seemingly affected every aspect of life from the average trip to buy groceries, dine out and attend concerts or sporting events to one’s dream vacation planned months, if not years, in advance.
“Furthermore, the impact is still evolving, yet the need for consumers to be vigilant and take common-sense steps to protect their financial wellbeing is constant.”
Morrisey said his office has received 12 complaints of price gouging since Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of preparedness March 4. He said each one is being investigated and followed up on accordingly.
“Some of them simply were a lack of understanding about the law,” Morrisey said. “But let me be clear about one point. We have price-gouging authority in this office, and I intend to make sure that law is enforced.”
The state’s price gouging law makes it unlawful for any person, business or contractor to inflate the price of food items, essential consumer items and emergency supplies by more than 10 percent of what the items sold for 10 days prior to the declaration.
Morrisey said any consumer who believes he or she may have been charged prices that increased dramatically after the March 4 declaration should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. Those with a receipt should attach a copy to their complaint.
Morrisey also wanted to assure consumers that empty store shelves and shortages of items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer are temporary.
“We want to be able to quiet people’s fears about this,” Morrisey said. “We have heard that in most instances, there is the ability to obtain food and other basic supplies. As we’ve all heard, there are shortages on toilet paper and hand sanitizer and limits on bottled water. But by and large, the supply chain in West Virginia and the country is sound.
“If you see empty shelves, realize this is a temporary situation. We know this is a problem and a real inconvenience. We also know that during this time, most people are trying to do the right thing. But there always are going to be a few bad apples.”
Morrisey also touched on travel and event cancellations, noting that most companies are loosening cancellation policies now. But he said his office is ready to help with obtaining refunds if consumers have problems doing so themselves.
He also cautioned consumers to be on the lookout for scams in the wake of the pandemic, including websites set up to sell bogus products or sham charities.
He said the AG’s office also is preparing by preparing a list of essential employees and being ready to react as needed.
“We urge people to take the preparations outlined,” Morrisey said. “And remain calm.”
Any consumer wishing to ask questions or file a complaint are asked to contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-368-8808 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.