The Justice Department is launching a new initiative aimed at identifying companies that exploit supply chain disruptions in the U.S. to make increased profits in violation of federal antitrust laws.
Justice Department lawyers worry that companies may “seek to exploit supply chain disruptions for their own illicit gain,” the department said. And, if that’s the case, the Justice Department and the FBI will prosecute antitrust violations they uncover, the department says.
“Temporary supply chain disruptions should not be allowed to conceal illegal conduct,” said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, who runs the Justice Department’s antitrust division.
Those violations could include agreements between individuals and businesses to fix prices or wages or to rig bids, prosecutors say.
While investigators work to find violators, Tom Stephens, president of the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida, says there are some steps consumers should take, as well.
“What I would tell the people is, say to people is try to be flexible, shop places that you have shopped before, stay off of the websites that are marketplaces where people can take advantage,” Stephens said. “I mean, there’s not really any oversight. Try to stay with the people that you know and compare prices.”
Stephens urges consumers, now more than ever, to start doing their own research on the items they want to buy, whether it’s pinpointing the original manufacturer’s suggested retail price before you buy a car or researching grocery store prices. The more you know, the less you’re likely to spend.
“The major grocery stores send out a price flyer every week, so you can compare, you know, this one or this one or this one and determine whose and see pretty quickly if someone’s over price on something. And then when you go the store, if you shop more than one place, you have a chance to compare the prices at the store,” Stephens said. “So that’s the thing is do your homework.”
Stephens points out that Floridians should also be reporting possible price gouging to the state attorney general’s office, which is doing an investigation of its own.
He says, unfortunately, in any crisis or change in the economic situation, greed is very much at play.
“Maybe you can get by with something else, either of a lesser quality or completely different item that does something close to the same thing,” Stephens said.
The items most likely to be inflated right now are clothing, gas, cars, computers and electronics, and furniture.
If you notice price gouging, you can call the Florida attorney general’s office at 866-9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).