Strengthening anti-price gouging laws


COLUMBUS – Attorney General Dave Yost announced plans to seek a new anti-price gouging law that does not rely on price controls when the Ohio General Assembly meets next week.

“I’m outraged that anybody would try to profiteer on a crisis, particularly on items that are necessary for the health and safety of Ohioans,” Yost said. His office is already working on draft language that would address weaknesses in Ohio’s existing laws.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section has received more than 150 complaints of price gouging this month amid the coronavirus pandemic. Yost said his office is reviewing every complaint and is actively working with members of the business community and trade associations to protect consumers.

While Ohio does not have a statute that deals directly with price gouging, state law bans unconscionable sales practices. A practice could be considered unconscionable if the business knew at the time of the sale that the price was substantially higher than normal or if the business dramatically increased the price of in-stock products based solely in response to current events.

“We don’t have a price gouging law in Ohio because we believe in free markets, but free markets don’t include the idea of holding toilet paper and surgical masks hostage,” Yost said.

This type of harmful marketplace behavior may also constitute a violation of the Valentine Act, Ohio’s antitrust law.

Enforcing the current laws can be challenging, Yost said, because they do not define unconscionable practices as they relate to price gouging. The proposed changes aim to fix that.

“We need a law that can tell the difference between someone who’s price gouging and somebody who’s reacting to normal price pressures of the market,” Yost said.

Ohioans who suspect unfair business practices should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 1-800-282-0515.