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How to tell when it is price gouging, what state experts look for during the coronavirus pandemic

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Posted at 9:46 PM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 07:18:34-04

OZAUKEE COUNTY, Wis. — The coronavirus outbreak has people lining up to buy items like toilet paper, wipes and hand sanitizer, but often find empty shelves.

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Wisconsin’s Attorney General asks people to be on the look out for potential price gouging in connection to the coronavirus pandemic. We have already been getting tips into our newsroom about the problem.

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Hand sanitizer selling for nearly 10 bucks in a Milwaukee-area store

That’s why Wisconsin Trade and Consumer Protection division administrator Lara Sutherlin wants people to watch out for being price-gouged. We spoke to her over FaceTime to find out what is considered price gouging in Wisconsin.

“Wholesaler or retailer in this instance cannot charge more than 15-percent of the price they have charged for the last 60 days. Unless it is part of their bonafide cost,” said Sutherlin.

A consumer sent in a tip to TMJ4 News saying the cost of hand sanitize at a Milwaukee-area store could be price gouging. When we went to to store and bought it for $9.99. On many major retailer websites it normally sells for around $3 to $5. Since that is more than a 15-percent increase we asked the state if they could be price gouging.

“What we are seeing in the state of Wisconsin and all over the country is costs are going up around Purell, around masks, things of that nature. Those prices can go up because of the demand and that would not be price gouging,” said Sutherlin.

Wisconsin’s consumer protection agency says if it costs the retailer more to get a consumer a product because items are in short supply then they can pass that cost onto the buyer. We asked the store why they were charging so much for hand sanitizer, and they told us it was costing them more to get it.

The state says if you don’t know if something is price gouging the best thing to do is report it.

“There are people online and on Craigslist that are capitalizing on this crisis and we are paying attention to that. We are going to investigate those complaints.” said Sutherlin.

You can file a complaint 800-422-7128 or online at www.dactp.wi.gov.

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