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AG Grewal Continues Focus on Consumer Fraud Related to COVID-19

New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs continues to crack down on consumer protection violations related to COVID-19. Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal recently announced penalties have been levied against twelve businesses charged with price gouging or false advertising, totaling more than $29,000 in fines.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we made clear that we would take a tough stand on price gouging and other abuses of New Jersey consumers,” said Grewal. “Most businesses are following the law. For those that are not, these actions are a reminder that the penalties for violations are significant.”

In the past six months, 1,884 cease and desist letters have been sent to retailers suspected of price gouging. In addition, 110 subpoenas related to investigations of alleged violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act have been issued.

Misleading Claims Lead to Violations

Included in Grewal’s announcement were penalties against merchants for misleading claims related to personal protection equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 antibody testing.  

Performance Supply LLC, was charged with allegedly making false and misleading statements in advertising N95 mask respirators for sale to personnel from the New York City Office of Citywide Procurement. In total, $12,500 in fines were assessed against the Manalapan business for both price gouging and misrepresenting the company as an authorized 3M Company distributor.

Hudson Drug of Cresskill was assessed $3,000 in civil penalties for advertising that the COVID-19 antibody tests it sold were suitable for at-home use, contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions. Retro Fitness of Rockaway was assessed a $2,000 civil penalty for allegedly making unsubstantiated claims related to antibody testing made available to club members via a health and wellness center affiliated with the club.

In addition, four merchants were each assessed $500 in civil penalties for violating the Merchandise Pricing Statute. The businesses required to post selling prices for merchandise such as bottled water, toilet paper and sanitizers include News Plus in Parsippany and a Shell station in Ridgewood.

Price-Gouging Law

Gov. Phil Murphy’s declaration of a state emergency on March 9 triggered the state’s price gouging law. Excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency, and the immediate 30 days after it concludes, are prohibited.

Under the law, a price increase is labeled excessive if it is more than 10 percent higher than the price charged prior to the state of emergency.

Businesses cited for price-gouging and other consumer fraud violations can be subject to pay civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first violation and $20,000 for the second and subsequent violations. Violators may also be required to pay consumer restitution, attorney’s fees, and investigative fees. 

 Consumer Action Encouraged

“We are committed to reviewing and investigating every complaint to ensure that merchants operate responsibly and refrain from unscrupulous behaviors, including violating our price gouging laws, at a time when many New Jerseyans are facing significant financial hardship,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director, Division of Consumer Affairs.

Both Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs have encouraged residents to report violations.

“Enlisting the help of residents to report unconscionable practices works,” said Grewal. Complaints can be submitted through the state’s website. Information to include includes specific details of price increase, items being sold, photos and receipts.

Daily Data

As of Sept. 24, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 201,552 with 430 new cases and 10 new deaths, bringing that total to 14,300. The state probable death count remains at 1,791, bringing the overall total to 16,091.

State officials noted 10 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.  

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,898, followed by Bergen at 1,801, Hudson with 1,354, Passaic at 1,110, Morris at 686, Sussex at 161 and Warren with 158.

In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 243, Essex has 229, Hudson has 160, Morris at 145, Passaic at 143, Sussex has 37 and Warren has 13.

State Testing 

The daily rate of infections from those tested as of Sept. 19 was 1.9%. By region, the north has a rate of 1.9%, central at 1.9% and the south at 2.1%. The state is no longer using serology tests as health officials explained those results show a past presence of the disease as well as a current one. 

As for the rate of transmission, remained unchanged at 1.15. Officials have continually cited transmission rate and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.

Officials reported 433 patients are hospitalized. By region, there were 203 in the North, 125 in the Central and 105 in the South.

Of those hospitalized, 88 are in intensive care units and 34 on ventilators, while 32 patients were discharged.

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most cumulative cases in the state with 22,304, followed by Essex at 20,927, Hudson at 20,568, Middlesex at 19,260, Passaic at 18,909, Union at 17,543, Ocean at 12,548, Monmouth at 11,682, Camden at 9,799, Mercer at 8,609, Morris at 7,810, Burlington at 7,036, Somerset at 5,740, Gloucester at 4,428, Atlantic at 4,002, Cumberland at 3,767, Sussex at 1,471, Warren at 1,437, Hunterdon at 1,302, Salem at 1,052 and Cape May at 1,013.

Another nine cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

Demographic Breakdown

The racial breakdown of the record deaths was 54% White, 20% Hispanic, 18% Black, 6% Asian and 2% another race. Murphy has noted the rates in the black and Hispanic communities are running about 50% more than their population in the state. 

In regards to the underlying disease of those who have passed, 56% had cardiovascular disease, 45% diabetes, 31% other chronic diseases, 18% neurological conditions, 17% lung diseases, 15% chronic renal disease, 10% cancer and 14% other. Persichilli has stated most cases have multiple underlying conditions which would push the percentage of 100%.

A census of ages for confirmed deaths shows 48% of deaths are of those 80 year old and up, 31% in the range of 65-80, 16% between 50-65 and 5% under the age of 49. 

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 162 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 6,723 of the cases, broken down between 4,154 residents and 2,569 staff. 

Cumulatively, 715 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 25,087 residents and 13,575 staff, for a total of 38,662 cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,154 on Sept. 24. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,773 residents deaths and 121 staff deaths. 

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