CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called upon consumers to be smart and vigilant as they conduct business during the global coronavirus pandemic.
The Attorney General discussed a broad range of consumer issues directly affected by the pandemic, including the adequacy of supply and the office’s outreach to retail stores. Other topics involved efforts to fight price gouging, alert consumers to coronavirus scams and help for those dealing with prepaid travel and events.
Any consumer wishing to ask such questions or file a complaint should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-368-8808 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.
“The coronavirus pandemic presents a challenge like none other,” Attorney General 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.”
Supply Chain: Empty store shelves are no doubt a concern and inconvenience; however, consumers should realize this is only temporary. Most shelves should be replenished within a day or so. This means there is no need for hoarding as our nation has an adequate food supply to see us through the pandemic.
Our office is in contact with executives for major retailers to stay abreast of supply issues and proactively enforce the state’s price gouging law.
Price Gouging: The state’s price gouging law took effect March 4 with the Governor’s state of preparedness declaration. The 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.
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.
Travel/Event Cancellations: Many airlines, vacation entities and entertainment providers are loosening cancellation policies due to the pandemic. While our office applauds those efforts, our attorneys stand ready to assist consumers when the refusal of a refund or other appropriate accommodation violates the state’s consumer protection laws.
Consumers should contact their travel or event provider and inquire about its cancellation/refund policy in times of crisis, after which the consumer should ask for a refund and, if accommodations are denied, promptly file a written complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.
Coronavirus Scams: Consumers should be wary of criminals who set up websites to sell bogus products. Such ploys often use fake emails, texts and social media posts, or may even promote awareness or fake information about cases in a local neighborhood and may seek donations for a sham charity or offer advice on unproven treatments.
All of these are a ruse to steal the consumer’s money and/or personal, identifiable information. This means be cautious with any unsolicited email, phone call or other forms of communication and never share such data or agree to send cash, wire money or provide numbers associated with a credit/debit card, gift card or bank account without verifying the legitimacy of the recipient.