Illinois attorney general takes action on price gouging, warns of COVID-19 scams
SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois attorney general's office has been working with a reduced and mostly remote staff the last 10 days, but it continues to warn against COVID-19-related price gouging, scams and utility shut-offs.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Kwame Raoul issued a news release warning businesses to "maintain fair prices on goods" and announcing that his office will "take action to stop unfair pricing on items that are crucial to stopping the spread of the coronavirus outbreak."
On Wednesday, Raoul's office issued another release announcing efforts with a bipartisan group of 32 other attorneys general urging Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart and Craigslist to "rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers using their services."
Raoul and the coalition said while companies are cooperating with the states' efforts to stop price gouging, they asked the online retailers to do more to monitor listings by third-party sellers.
"At a time when my office could be assisting people who are concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact their mortgage, rent and student loan debt payments, my office is devoting significant resources to investigating individuals who are attempting to benefit from the public health crisis by putting profits before people," Raoul said.
In their letters to the companies, Raoul and the coalition referenced a two-liter bottle of hand sanitizer listed for $250 on Craigslist, an 8-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer listed for $40 on Facebook Marketplace, and packs of face masks being priced at $40 and $50 on eBay.
Raoul and the coalition argued marketplaces should enforce price increase limits and create a complaint portal for consumers to report potential price gouging.
The attorney general's office received hundreds of complaints about price gouging on items such as hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, face masks, disinfectant sprays and toilet paper, Raoul said. His office is collaborating with state's attorneys throughout Illinois to combat price gouging within communities, according to the release.
Raoul said consumers can report unfair business practices connected to the COVID-19 outbreak by visiting the attorney general's website and filling out a complaint form at https://ccformsubmission.ilattorneygeneral.net.
Another March news release urged individuals "to not purchase any product promoted online on social media or via email that is being touted as a cure to COVID-19." False cures and treatments that have been marketed but are not effective include chlorine dioxide, hydroxychloroquine, essential oils, silver, elderberry and garlic, according to Raoul's office.
His office also urged the public to be wary of emails claiming to be from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other entities claiming to have information about COVID-19, or offering treatments or cures.
According to the CDC, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it, and any emails claiming otherwise should be deleted, Raoul said, urging consumers to follow reputable sources such as the Illinois Department of Public Health and the CDC. Illinois' website for all things related to the virus is coronavirus.illinois.gov, and it is updated daily.
In the same release, Raoul urged caution when donating to charitable causes connected to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Raoul said Illinoisans should not donate if the solicitor uses high-pressure tactics, asks for payment in cash or insists on sending someone to pick up a donation; should not respond to text or email charity solicitations unless they individually contact the charity to confirm that the request is valid and not from an impostor; and be cautious of fraudulent "look-alike" websites that may ask for personal financial information and download harmful malware.
Raoul's office said individuals should not assume that charity recommendations on Facebook or social media are legitimate, but should do individual research of the charities themselves.
Raoul's office has also urged consumers to file an online complaint if they experience utility disconnections or disrupted service while the COVID-19 disaster is ongoing.
On March 18, the Illinois Commerce Commission mandated all public utilities to suspend disconnections from service and late fees until at least May 1, or until the state of emergency is lifted.
"Being shut off from utility service is the last thing people should worry about as they work remotely, care for vulnerable populations, or self-quarantine," Raoul said in the release.
The ICC's emergency order applies to public utility companies across Illinois, but does not apply to municipally-owned utilities and co-ops. He urged those entities to follow the ICC request to cease disconnections, suspend late fees and adopt flexible payment plans.
The ICC also issued an order to prohibit in-person solicitations by alternative retail electric and gas suppliers during the pandemic.
Raoul encourages Illinoisans who experience utility disconnections or encounter door-to-door energy supplier marketers to file complaint at the same form used to report price gouging at https://ccformsubmission.ilattorneygeneral.net.