ABC57 Investigates: Price gouging complaints skyrocket in Indiana and Michigan
MISHAWAKA, Ind. --- Essential goods such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and eggs are flying off store shelves right now—and when you are able to find these items, the price tag may be higher than you have ever seen.
Several retailers throughout Indiana and Michigan are being accused of gouging prices during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Businesses take these items that are essential, honestly, for our survival at this point, and they price them out in a way that people cannot afford them anymore,” Dana Nessel said, Michigan Attorney General. “It’s contributing to the health crisis.”
Reports of price gouging have skyrocketed over the past month at box big box stores and mom and pop shops.
Customers say retailers are hiking up prices for essential items that people use every day.
“I wouldn’t expect this from anyone,” Michelle Moore said, a price gouging victim.
Prices and complaints are on the rise.
“I had no idea that it was going to come to that,” Steve Morse said, Special Agent Supervisor for Michigan Department of Attorney General.
People across Michiana are emptying their wallets to pay for essentials such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, eggs, milk and meat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s creating an environment where, you know, only the very wealthy can stay healthy,” Nessel said.
From online retailers to big box stores to mom and pop shops, businesses throughout Michiana and Indiana are being accused of price gouging.
“They are charging more just so that they can make more of a profit in their business,” Nessel said.
In 2019, Indiana received about 29 complaints of price gouging. Since the beginning of March, that number has jumped to a total of 233.
“This is a significant increase in the number of price gouging complaints that the office is receiving,” Betsy DeNardi said, Director and Chief Counsel of Consumer Protection, Office of the Indiana Attorney General.
In 2019, Michigan had 80 complaints with more than half of those against gas stations or propane suppliers.
Since the first week of March, price gouging complaints have skyrocketed to more than 3,500.
It has gotten so bad that Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order last month just on price gouging.
“It’s now a crime in the state of Michigan,” Nessel said. “You can be criminally prosecuted for it.”
What exactly is considered price gouging?
In Michigan, if a product is priced 20% or higher than it was on March 9, that product has been price gouged.
In Indiana—it’s a little different.
“With Indiana, our price gouging statue specifically relates only to fuel gasoline and other fuel products and is only in effect when the Governor declares an emergency,” DeNardi said.
Michelle Moore lives in Elkhart and recently filed a complaint against Martin’s Supermarket on Bristol St.
Moore said she was shocked to see the cost of the eggs go up 40% in less than two weeks.
“I don’t think it’s right,” Moore said. “I mean it’s just making a harder—hard time even harder, you know, just makes it really tough on the average individual.”
ABC57 contacted Martin’s for comment in response to Moore’s complaint and received the following response:
“Martin’s Super Markets as a company is committed to our customers and our communities; we would never take advantage, at this time of national emergency, or at any other time, by price gouging. As demand for key household items has increased in response to concerns over COVID-19, our stores have limited the number of certain items store guests can purchase to ensure as many customers as possible can be served before the next store delivery. Our supply chain, distribution and transportation teams are working diligently to ensure the items customers and service members need find their way quickly to our store. We appreciate your understanding and support of our team of associates, who are working hard to meet your needs, while balancing their personal safety and that of their loved ones.
Our costs to acquire eggs for our stores has dramatically increased as have prices across the country. Please see the attached below from the US Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Livestock, Poultry & Grain Market News.”
Martin’s is not the only store accused of price gouging. There have been complaints filed against retailers such as Kroger, Dollar General and Menards—where people have reported paying up to $40 for masks, $10 for bleach and $10 for a single can of Lysol.
“When the prices go up, and there are people that are laid off, people without their normal income…it makes it even—it compounds it, it makes it worse,” Morse said.
With so many people out of work now due to the pandemic, Michigan’s Attorney General said now more than ever, consumers needs to speak up and report cases of price gouging.
“This is the time when people can least afford to purchase those products in the first place because so many people are out of work now,” Nessel said. “And it was hard enough maybe for a lot of people to purchase these products before the crisis. For some people, it’s nearly impossible now.”
Both Michigan and Indiana are cracking down on businesses taking advantage of people during these touch times—sending letters of intended action to cease and desist.
There are cases where business owners are simply fighting to keep their doors open.
“If it was just to, you know, try to make ends meet then, you know, we’re not running around, locking people up and giving them citations,” Morse said.
At the end of the day, state officials say they are doing everything they can to make sure retailers are not trying to rip consumers off.
“We need to make sure that people can safely stay in their homes,” Nessel said. “And we need to make sure that people have the financial ability to purchase products that they absolutely need to keep themselves and their families safe.”
Both Indiana and Michigan officials said that they expect reports of price gouging will continue to climb during the Coronavirus pandemic.