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Suspect pandemic price-gouging? Call the attorney general

Profiteering during a public health crisis should carry a swift, and stiff, penalty.

Toilet paper moves out from a cutting machine at a factory in Maine.
Toilet paper moves out from a cutting machine at a factory in Maine.
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

There’s no excuse for any business to take advantage of a public health crisis by jacking up the price of toilet paper to $4.99 a roll. Or to charge $12.99 for a bottle of hand sanitizer that normally costs $2.99.

Yet hundreds of Illinois businesses, it seems, are engaging in just this sort of shameless price-gouging while the COVID-19 pandemic rages all around us.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said Monday that his office has received more than 525 complaints of price-gouging during this pandemic, up from just 100 complaints received last week.

As Raoul warned Monday, businesses must “cut it out.” Profiteering during a crisis demands a stiff, swift penalty.

Any business that refuses to stop its price-gouging rightly faces a potential fine of up to $50,000, the maximum allowed under the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act.

Public officials have repeatedly reminded the public that there’s no need to hoard toilet paper, hand sanitizer or any other items because of the COVID-19 crisis. That hasn’t put an end to the stockpiling, though.

As a result, investigators from Raoul’s office are fielding complaints of businesses inflating the price of water, toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and sprays, surgical masks and other medical equipment.

An executive order signed recently by Gov. J.B. Pritzker banned price-gouging and gave Raoul’s office broad authority to fight it.

The federal government should look out for the public’s best interests and do its part here. Price-gouging has become a national problem.

A recent survey by the not-for-profit Public Interest Research Group found that sellers on Amazon were jacking up prices for hand sanitizers and surgical masks. The 30-day average price for these items was 18.5% higher than the average price for the preceding three months. Some products saw a 50% price increase.

In Illinois, you can report suspected price-gouging to the attorney general’s office at https://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/. We encourage you to do so.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.