Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is deploying secret shoppers and putting Menards on notice in the state’s first efforts to crack down on price gouging during the COVID-19 emergency.

Minnesota does not have a law banning price gouging, but Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order this month to address reports of skyrocketing prices for household staples and health supplies.

Ellison’s office had received 483 complaints of price gouging by Friday, while investigators fanned out across the state. In one case, the office secured a formal agreement from a downtown St. Paul smoke shop to stop selling toilet paper and hand sanitizer after a “secret shopper investigator” found that store was charging $79.99 for 36-packs of toilet paper and $4.99 for one-ounce hand sanitizer bottles.

Ellison’s office also sent a warning letter to Menards last week, saying investigators were looking into reports of price gouging for cleaning supplies and face masks. The company asked for a 15-day extension on its Friday deadline to respond. Also Friday, Ellison joined 32 other attorneys general — whose states already outlaw price gouging — in a letter warning online retailers that they are not exempt from such laws. (The price-gouging complaint form can be found here.)

“I will do everything in my power to help ensure Minnesotans can afford their lives and are protected from pandemic profiteering,” he said.

 

Stephen Montemayor