Consumer Protection Bureau launches social media campaign on price gouging
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With allegations of price gouging — especially last month when consumers encountered a sudden hike in price for certain goods after arrival of containers vessels were delayed — the Consumer Protection Bureau (CPB) of the ASG Department of Legal Affairs has launched a public awareness campaign on social media.
“It’s about time. It should have been done last month,” was the swift response from three local residents, who informed Samoa News on Sunday night about the notice posted on the Legal Affairs’ website (www.legalaffairs.as.gov) and its facebook page. The CPB link on the website also has further details as well as a consumer complaint form.
The same residents also claimed — through email messages — that they still observed this practice over the weekend particularly for imported bottled water — which was not available at some stores yesterday morning.
“Price Gouging Is Illegal,” declared CPB in its public awareness message, which explained that under American Samoa law, price gouging is increasing prices after an emergency is declared by the governor — by raising prices more than 10% above pre-declaration prices.
The law also prohibits unjustified price increases of over 10% on: Consumer food items or goods; Emergency supplies; Medical supplies; Building materials; Housing; Any other goods or services necessary in an emergency.
CPB further explained that local law also allows people and businesses to increase their prices more than 10% if the costs to the retailer for supplies or labor increase. “When we receive a report of price gouging, we will investigate whether or not the price increase is justified,” said CPB.
For example, if a retailer was selling tomatoes for $1 before the declaration, and after the declaration the retailers was selling them for $2, that could be price gouging.
However, if the retailer couldn't get the tomatoes in by ship and the retailer had someone bring them in by plane that would increase the cost to the retailer. “That would justify a reasonable price increase,” it said.
Samoa News notes that this was the case for some fresh fruits and certain products that stores brought in by airfreight. And in these stores — as Samoa News observed — there was a sign which clearly notes that the goods were air freighted in.
If a consumer suspects price gouging, a complaint can be filed with the CPB, providing information about the store, business, or person that has raised its prices since the beginning of the declared emergency. CPB would also need the name of the product as well as the price before and after the emergency.
CPB will send someone to that store to investigate the price increase.
Under the law, violators are subject to civil fines of up to $1000 per violation, the loss of a business license, or criminal prosecution as a Class A misdemeanor.
Some local residents have strongly recommended for consumers to take photos — since everyone appears to have cellphones with cameras.