BLOOMFIELD, NJ — N.J. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs announced actions against a dozen merchants for consumer protection violations related to COVID-19, with penalties totaling tens of thousands of dollars, according to a Sept. 21 press release. Among those subject to enforcement actions are two North Jersey businesses that allegedly made false or unsubstantiated claims in the sale of COVID-19 antibody tests and a Monmouth County business that was selling face masks at as much as six times the manufacturer’s retail prices.

Several merchants received Notifications of Violation and were assessed civil penalties for alleged price gouging on essential items such as bottled water, rice, face masks, disinfectant spray, sanitizers and toilet paper. Among them was Super Fresh Pine Tree Supermarket, located at 19 Belleville Ave. in Bloomfield; the store was fined $1,250.

These actions are the latest of many taken by the division to address the unprecedented number of consumer complaints and referrals received during the current public health emergency. To date, the division has sent 1,884 cease-and-desist letters to retailers suspected of price gouging and other unethical business practices during the coronavirus pandemic, and issued 110 subpoenas seeking additional information in its investigations of alleged violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

“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,” Grewal said. “Enlisting the help of residents to report unconscionable practices works. Most businesses are following the law. For those that are not, these actions are a reminder that the penalties for violations are significant.”

The Notices of Violation filed in this latest round of enforcement actions carry individual penalties ranging from $500 to $12,500, depending on the severity and number of violations.

“The division is working tirelessly during this pandemic to protect consumers from threats to their health in the form of unsubstantiated claims and predatory pricing on personal protective equipment,” acting Division of Consumer Affairs Director Paul Rodriguez said. “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.”

New Jersey’s price-gouging law, which took effect March 9 upon Gov. Phil Murphy’s declaration of a state of emergency, prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency and for 30 days after its termination. A price increase is considered excessive if the new price is more than 10-percent higher than the price charged during the normal course of business prior to the state of emergency, and the increased price is not attributable to additional costs imposed by the seller’s supplier or additional costs of providing the product or service during the state of emergency.

Consumers who suspect consumer fraud violations, or believe that businesses have unfairly increased their prices in response to COVID-19, are encouraged to file complaints online at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/Pages/Consumer-Complaints.aspx to report specific details related to the increased prices. Photographs of items being sold, their prices and receipts can now be uploaded to the complaint form.