CHARLESTON — Offices of the West Virginia attorney general and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia are urging consumers to protect themselves from scams, price gouging and other financial harm during the global coronavirus pandemic.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said his office is in contact with executives for major retailers and is proactively enforcing the state’s price gouging law. The price gouging law took effect March 4 when Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of preparedness. The law makes it unlawful for any person, business or contractor to inflate the price of items by more than 10% of what it sold for 10 days prior to the declaration.
Anyone who believes he or she may have been charged prices outside those guidelines should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. A copy of a receipt should be attached to the complaint.
The Attorney General’s Office is also ready to assist consumers with canceled travel or event plans when the refusal of a refund or other accommodations violates the state’s consumer protection laws. Concerned consumers should contact their travel or event provider and inquire about its cancellation or refund policy. If accommodations are denied when needed, a written complaint can be made with the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division.
Consumers should also be wary of websites set up to sell fake products. These ploys often use fake emails, texts, social media posts and more to promote awareness or fake information about confirmed coronavirus cases in a local area in order to seek donations for a sham charity. They can also offer advice for unproven treatments.
Morrisey asks consumers to be cautions with any unsolicited email, phone calls or other forms of communications and to never share personal and financial information or agree to send money in any form.
Anyone with questions or tips can call Morrisey’s office at 800-368-8808.
U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said all office locations — in Huntington, Charleston and Beckley — will remain open during the pandemic in order to help protect the health and safety of residents.
The federal attorney said it was a priority for his office to detect, investigate and prosecute all criminal conduct related to the pandemic and asked citizens to remain vigilant to scammers and fraudsters.
“Use common sense, never give out your personal info, banking info or Social Security number, and never buy a gift card because someone wants paid ‘right now,’” he said. “If you’re confused or unsure, you should consult a friend or family member, and if you suspect fraud, report it to law enforcement and the FTC.”
Complaints to the FTC can be made at consumer.ftc.gov. The U.S. Attorney’s Office can be reached at 304-345-2200.