Senior Shopping 02

A posting limits items for purchase on a nearly empty toilet paper shelf on Friday, March 20, 2020, at Macey’s on 36th Street in South Ogden. Associated Food Stores have opened all their locations at 8 a.m. to anyone 60 years or older in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

SALT LAKE CITY — Investigators are probing reports of price gouging in sales of toilet paper, water, fruit and vegetables, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection said Monday.

The division also reported having encountered a few incidents of apparent price gouging that turned out to be “ill-advised attempts at a joke.”

Gov. Gary Herbert’s recent declaration of an emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic kicked in an emergency price controls law. It prohibits individuals and businesses from selling retail items for excessive prices.

In one investigation, the division is looking into reports that a company it did not identify has illegally marked up water, fruits, vegetables and other grocery items.

The business asserted that the wholesale costs of its products in many categories have increased during the state of emergency, the division said in a press release.

The division’s investigation continues with the goal of determining whether consumers were gouged illegally. Price increases corresponding to increased wholesale costs are not illegal, the division said.

In another case, a retailer allegedly sold toilet paper at nearly double the cost, prior to the emergency, the division said. The company, not identified by the state, has been asked to provide records of its wholesale costs.

Violators of the price-gouging law can be fined $1,000 per incident and up to $10,000 per day.

A social media user ended up receiving death threats for offering toilet paper at $100 to $200 a case, according to the division.

Investigators said they determined the post was intended as a joke. But as other users responded to it by adding fake photos, others began to believe it was a price-gouging effort.

Meantime, a fast food chain restaurant had rolls of toilet paper stacked at a drive-up window with a sign advertising it for $20 a roll.

It was intended as a joke and no rolls were sold, the division said.

Price-gouging reports can be filed on the division’s website at https://consumerprotection.utah.gov/. Reports also can be called in at 801-530-6601 or 1-800-721-7233.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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