Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum Tuesday announced settlements with five Oregon companies for consumer protection violations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reminded Oregon businesses that Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order banning excessive pricing of essential goods and services remains in effect. The companies named in the settlements include two convenience store chains, a Portland-based sock merchant, a travel business, and a skincare company.
“As Oregonians continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, these actions are a reminder that as your AG, I will not tolerate price gouging and other unconscionable trade practices,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “Most businesses are following the law. Those that are not should take note: the Oregon Department of Justice will investigate, and we will hold you accountable. The penalties for violations are significant.”
The settlements, also known as Assurances of Voluntary Compliance or AVCs, are the latest actions taken by the Oregon Department of Justice to address the unprecedented number of complaints logged by Oregonians during the ongoing public health emergency. At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, Attorney General Rosenblum was granted the authority to investigate price gouging complaints and take appropriate action against businesses that charged excessive prices for essential goods. A price gouging hotline run by the AG’s office received more than one thousand reports of price gouging.
The AVCs announced today require the businesses involved to pay amounts ranging from $12,500 to $21,500, depending on the severity and number of violations.
The single largest amount was paid by Plaid Pantry for allegedly charging unconscionably excessive prices for face masks.
This spring, the DOJ received a complaint about the price of four-pack face masks at Plaid Pantry. The investigation revealed Plaid Pantry purchased these masks at a cost of $4.50 per four pack and sold 9,000 of them between May and June for nearly double the purchase price. In March, the Oregon Department of Justice received similar complaints from consumers in Portland, Salem and Eugene that 7-Eleven stores were also charging an excessive price for individual face masks. Both convenience store chains have agreed to stop charging excessive prices for face masks and comply with Oregon’s price-gouging law.
DOJ also investigated two businesses’ claims that their products could prevent, cure, or mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Live Your Colour, Inc. agreed to pay $15,000 for advertising that its silk socks could protect against COVID-19. Sher-Ray, Inc., a Bend organic skincare company, advertised one of its products, an aromatherapy diffuser blend called “Respiratory Remedy” as a possible cure or mitigation for COVID-19. Both businesses have agreed to not make any representation that relates to COVID-19 in connection with the advertising, promotion, sale or distribution of its products without competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claims.
After receiving complaints about the company’s refund policy for COVID-19-related cancellations, DOJ also reviewed the refund practices of EF Tours, a travel company that had organized domestic and international educational trips for over 1,500 of Oregon high school students and teachers. Under the terms of the AVC, the company agreed to increase the amount of refunds offered to consumers in accordance with Oregon law, which requires businesses to refund prepaid amounts if they do not provide goods or services and do not have a good-faith reason for keeping the money.