Coronavirus sparks consumer complaints to Ohio Attorney General

(WBNS-10TV)
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COLUMBUS (WBNS) – Panic buying and hoarding of groceries are two more symptoms of the coronavirus outbreak.

So too is an increase on prices for certain goods.

10 Investigates found there have been 49 complaints filed with Ohio Attorney General’s office abut alleged price gouging in the month of the March – the lion’s share of those coming after March 9 when Governor Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency after the first three coronavirus cases were confirmed in Ohio.

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“People need to have access to what they need at a regular price; at a normal price,” said Jennifer Chancey, a Columbus woman who filed a complaint.

Chancey said she was concerned about the increased priced of bottled water at the Michiocana Mexican Market off Cleveland Avenue.

Jennifer talked to 10 Investigates by phone from her Columbus home – she’s staying inside with her daughter – also part of our new normal in wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

“My mother raised me right. She taught me to always speak up about injustices that are happening out in the world,” she said.

But the president of that grocery store chain says any price increases are caused be increased costs from suppliers.

“We are telling our customers we just have to do what we are doing, we are keeping the same margins and we are not doing nothing wrong. Our suppliers are increasing the price and we are increasing the price too,” said Fernando Alcauter, president of the Michiocana Mexican Market chain.

Alcauter says his stores are increasing sanitation, re-training employees and encouraging customers not to over buy. He says he hopes one day he can reduce prices again.

When asked if he understood consumer concerns, he said: “Definitely. I understand where they are coming from. Trust me. I’ve been at the same point as them, but there’s nothing we can do – they put the price, we keep the margin.”

At another international market in Columbus, there were other complaints filed from consumers.

10 Investigates is not naming the retailer right now (we’re still hoping to hear a response back from management before news time) but the grocer has had two complaints filed against it with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office this month – both raising concerns about the price of certain goods – including masks.

10 Investigates found the store was charging $120 for a package of 50. A woman who identified herself as an employee told me they were just passing on the cost from their vendor.

10 Investigates found the same type of masks had been previously offered up online for $9.60 for a package of 50 but they were currently unavailable. We also found them on Amazon for $150.

The masks inside the Columbus store were stacked near a sign that read “protect yourself against corona virus” even though health officials have warned the masks may only be most effective in helping prevent the spread from those who are already sick.

10 Investigates also found masks being offered up on websites like Craigslist from $300 to as much as $500.

Ohio does have an unconscionable consumer sales act – meant to protect consumers from being taken – what’s not clear is how often it’s enforced. A spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General said it is often cited in their complaints. Our follow-up questions have not been answered as of news time.

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