Price gouging is illegal in the State of Hawaii and the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) has the authority to prosecute any business that engages in price gouging after a disaster has been declared by the Governor or President. In view of the coronavirus pandemic, OCP has issued stern warnings about price gouging to businesses during this time, but, you should still be on your guard.
One way to avoid price gouging is to buy from “trusted places”, merchants with whom you’ve dealt with in the past. Unfamiliar sellers from the internet should be avoided. When purchasing from established online marketplaces you may want to take extra precautions and use your best judgment before you buy something from a third-party seller.
Please note that higher prices alone do not mean that price gouging has taken place, as businesses may be allowed to raise their prices due to additional operating expenses directly attributable to the emergency. This does not mean, however, that a business can take advantage of the emergency and raise their prices to exorbitant or excessive rates. Any business engaged in such a practice will be subject to severe penalties.
What are the penalties?
Price-gouging will be treated as an unfair or deceptive trade practice by the OCP, which has robust civil penalties.
The civil penalty for price-gouging is a fine between $500 – $10,000 per violation. H.R.S. §480-3.1.
Under Hawaii law, each instance of price gouging may constitute a separate violation.
How to report suspected price-gouging
Anyone suspecting that a business is engaging in price gouging should file a Consumer Complaint with the OCP. Access the complaint form online here: https://cca.hawaii.gov/ocp/consumer-complaint/
If you suspect price gouging, try to get as much information as possible before reporting. Take a picture of the posted price, advertisement or online listing. If you are in a store, take a picture of the item and note the product name, brand, size or quantity, and unit price. If you are shopping online, take a screenshot of the listing or note the online platform, seller name, date, and all of the product information, including price.
Consumers may also share information regarding price gouging by telephoning OCP’s Consumer Resource Center at 808-587-4272.