Spike in billing, price gouging complaints in DC attorney general’s report

Large numbers of complaints about billing and cancellation, as well as price gouging, riddled D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine’s coronavirus-focused consumer report released on Friday.

A bulk of the complaints (46%) in the Office of the Attorney General’s “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Consumer Complaint Report” touched on billing and cancellation issues.

The first week in April had the highest surge in billing and cancellation complaints, per the report, since that’s when consumers were charged monthly membership fees for services that weren’t provided during the public health emergency.

Specific purchases that received complaints in the report were gym memberships, travel purchases and concert tickets.

Issues with price gouging made up 36% of the complaints in the report as residents in all of D.C.’s eight wards cited it as a problem.

“The Office of the Attorney General has taken immediate steps to make sure that consumers are treated fairly during the pandemic and is closely monitoring all incoming complaints for any potential disparities they reveal,” said Racine in a news release.

“I urge District residents to contact our office if they believe a business or individual is treating them unfairly or trying to take advantage of them.”

Wards 5 and 6 had the most complaints of price gouging.

The report said that more than 23 complaints were confirmed by in-person visits by OAG investigators.

The Natural Disaster Consumer Protection Act went into effect on March 11, when Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency that “prohibits individuals or businesses from charging higher than the normal average retail price for goods and services.”

More specifically, the report outlined, the law prevents retailers from raising costs for services more than 10% above the price charged within 90 days before the declaration.

That allowed the OAG to deliver cease and desist letters over price gouging to businesses in every ward except Ward 4, per the report, which also said the OAG filed one lawsuit against a retailer in Ward 7 for price gouging on May 1.

The report said that the court ordered an immediate stop to illegal pricing practices for the Ward 7 business.

Health clubs and spas were the most complained-about industry, coming in at 33% of complaints.

Retail-general merchandise complaints were a close second at 30%.

Of the 634 complaints recorded, nearly 70% (438) were related to the state of emergency brought on by the pandemic.

The final tally for this period, which covered March 11 through May 11, more than doubled the 245 complaints received from January and February.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Matthew Delaney

Matt Delaney is a digital web writer/editor who joined WTOP in 2020.

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