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NJ inspectors investigate price gouging in Bergen

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: A Saddle Brook gas station is one of several businesses being visited today by state inspectors investigating complaints of price gouging — some of which Gov. Christie received directly through his Twitter account, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.

Website: NJDCA

The inspectors are reviewing receipts from the past two weeks of several businesses, and will continue to do so for legitimate complaints, Thomas R. Calcagni, director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this morning.

New Jersey was in a state of emergency throughout the weekend because of Hurricane Irene. Under state law, it’s illegal to artificially boost prices not only during the emergency but for 30 days after it ends. That goes for gas stations, supermarkets, even local grocery stores.

Anyone caught gouring prices during that time will be dealt with, both Calcagni and his boss, state Attorney General Paula Dow, said.

“During life-threatening emergencies like this, New Jerseyans should be looking out for each other – not looking to scam each other,” Dow said. “We will look closely at every complaint about alleged price gouging.  Anyone found to be violating the law will face significant penalties.”

Although some of the complaints have come in through the state’s special hotline ( see below ), the governor received one Saturday night from a customer who said a store in Howell Township hiked the price of bottled water to an outrageous $40 a case.

State officials are so serious about the issue that Calcagni himself called the store — and was put on hold for 40 minutes. An investigator went out there today.

The Saddle Brook service station boosted its price for regular gas to $3.79 a gallon from $3.33 per gallon, according to a complaint received from a local motorist. Although it may not seem like much to some, if it’s true, the nearly 14% hike would violate the state’s anti-price gouging statute.

The inspectors are also visiting a deli in Belleville that, following a water-boil warning, increased the price of bottled water from $6.99 to $12 per case, Calcagni said.

In each case, local police are assisting the state inspectors by dropping by the businesses and checking prices.

The law deems price increases excessive if they are more than 10 percent higher than originally had been charaged. Anyone caught redhanded can be fined up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for any after that.

Calcagni said it’s important to note that “each individual sale of merchandise is considered a separate and distinct event.

“Retailers should know we will conduct a thorough investigation, including an audit of the merchant’s receipts dating back to before the State of Emergency, to examine each and every complaint,” Calcagni added. “Anyone violating the law will find the penalties they face far outweigh the profits of scamming their fellow New Jerseyans during a time of great need.”

If you believe you’ve been cheated or scammed by any business, you can file a complaint with the DCA by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within NJ) or 973-504-6200. Or go to the agency website: NJDCA

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