HARTFORD, CT (UPDATED Tuesday, 1:20 p.m.) – As seemingly everything else in Connecticut shuts down, state agencies are ramping up to handle unemployment claims – and complaints of price gouging.
The state Department of Labor saw approximately 8,000 new claims between Friday afternoon and Monday morning, according to department spokesman Steve Jensen. For context, Jensen said the DOL normally receives about 500 claims per day, or nearly a quadrupling of the usual weekend tally.
Claims must be submitted online, at www.filectui.com, and the DOL has had no issue with digital capacity, Jensen said, adding that the department is shifting staff to handle the extra processing. A special DOLfact sheet has been prepared for those with questions about whether they qualify for benefits.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s office said Monday that it has received approximately 60 complaints related to the COVID-19 outbreak, mostly concerning canceled travel plans and jacked-up prices for items like hand sanitizer, face masks, and toilet paper. That number climbed to 71 by Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re taking these complaints very, very seriously,” Attorney General William Tong said. “We have no tolerance for people taking advantage of their neighbors and their communities.”
Anyone caught price gouging exposes themselves to an assortment of penalties, from fines and license suspension to referrals for criminal prosecutions, Tong said.
Tong’s office issued a summary of the complaints, minus names and locations:
• One consumer reported trying to buy a 2-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer at a local gas station and being told it would cost $10.20. Another service station was accused of demanding $29.99 per bottle.
• An online vendor of face masks was selling them for more than 10 times their normal value, a consumer complained. Another reported attempting to buy two packs of masks online, with one carrying a price of $39, the other $49. When she added them to her virtual shopping cart and proceeded to check out, she found that shipping for the packs would cost her $160 and $199.99, respectively.
• A couple who had bought tickets for a flight to Paris before the outbreak decided not to go when the health risks became clear. The couple thought they might be eligible for credit toward a future flight, but the airline declined. The Attorney General’s office reported stepping in and securing a full refund for the customers.
• Before the outbreak, an elderly couple booked a cruise that would begin in Hong Kong and end in Singapore. After the outbreak, the cruise line refused their requests to rebook or provide a refund. Again, the Attorney General’s office intervened, resulting in the cruise line giving a full refund—along with coverage of their airfare penalties and credit for a future cruise.
“Price gouging” or profiteering means increasing the retail price of an item by more than could be justified in the ordinary course of business, according to the Attorney General’s office. Connecticut prohibits increasing the price of any retail item in areas where the governor has declared an emergency.
COVID-19-related complaints can be filed on the websites of the Attorney General and the Department of Consumer Protection—-Complaint-Center.