Report suspected price gouging

MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - March 30: Updated with a link to the Better Business Bureau

Wisconsin consumer protection officials tell Action 2 News they're looking into complaints of price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lara Sutherlin of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) told us, "There are people out there that are taking advantage of the situation and the crisis, and there are incidents of price gouging, and DATCP is looking for those and trying to enforce where necessary.

We've shown you the run on household staples like toilet paper and pasta at local stores. State consumer officials want to make sure you're being charged a fair price.

The DATCP says it's not uncommon for prices to go up when supply is low or demand is high. However, it can be illegal if the seller is only using an excuse to add to their profit.

Under state law, during a crisis, retailers and wholesalers and those who provide services are "generally prohibited" from raising prices more than 15% compared to prices before the crisis.

There are some exceptions, such as when low supply or high demand drive up the seller's own costs for obtaining the products or providing a service, as long as the prices don't exceed their actual cost "plus a reasonable markup."

"Any time you have a supply shortage, you're going to see an increase in price because it's harder to get that product to the shelf, particularly in far-reaching communities. The price in Madison is going to be different than the price in Antigo, and so on," Sutherlin said.

If you suspect price gouging, contact the DATCP Consumer Protection Hotline. Call 1-800-422-7128, email DATCPHotline@wisconsin.gov or use an online reporting form (CLICK HERE).

You'll be asked to report the seller's name and location, the date the product was offered for sale, and specific information about the product, including product name, size and price.

In addition, you can report suspected price gouging with the Better Business Bureau Complaint Tool at BBB.org/AdTruth. The BBB says it will follow up with the companies and work with attorneys general or other appropriate agencies.

"If you see some really astronomical prices -- $100 for a mask or something close to that -- certainly that would be price gouging, and you should call and file a complaint," Sutherlin said.