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11 Investigates: Price gouging legal in Ohio, to dismay of state's top cop

11 Investigates learned price gouging isn't banned in Ohio and 15 other states. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost wants that to change.

TOLEDO, Ohio — How much is a roll of toilet paper worth? 

That depends on supply and demand. Also, perhaps, how much you need it.

But in times like these, 11 Investigates is learning that practice can be a completely legal recipe for disaster and you could very well be throwing your money right down the drain.

We have heard from many of you about a side effect of the coronavirus pandemic: price gouging.

"People do funny things for money," Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told 11 Investigates via Zoom.

State records provided to 11 Investigates outline more than 400 price gouging complaints lodged to the Ohio Attorney General's office in March. A WTOL 11 analysis found more than half of them were categorized as coronavirus-related.

"So, is that a lot? It's too much," Yost said. "The idea that people are taking advantage of their neighbors in this crisis is something that is disturbing."

Credit: WTOL

11 Investigates spoke with several people from around the Toledo metro area who say they've witnessed the sharp price increases first-hand.

Items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and drinking water.

"When I see somebody that's charging, you know, $10 for a roll of toilet paper, or is trying to get $10 for an N-95 mask just because they went out and bought a whole bunch of them early on, that's not right," Yost said.    

It may not be right, but it's legal.

Even though most states have laws prohibiting price gouging, 11 Investigates learned Ohio is one of 16 states where the practice isn't banned.

Credit: TEGNA

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There is one related law in the Buckeye State, O.R.C. 1345.03, which says "No supplier shall commit an unconscionable act or practice in connection with a consumer transaction."

"I do think that the laws could be improved here in Ohio," Yost said.

11 Investigates learned State Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R - District 2) felt similarly.

"There are senators who are going to soon be introducing legislation to address the issue of price gouging in Ohio," Gavarone said. "Actually, I read over the legislation yesterday. I'm going to be co-sponsoring that.

"I think we do need to protect consumers, especially in the time of an emergency like this."

Gavarone would not commit to a timeframe for that legislation, only saying it would be introduced soon after lawmakers return to Columbus.

That is a glimmer of hope for Ohio's top cop, who had a simple message for price gougers.

"There's no room for predators."

If you would like to file a price-gouging complaint with the attorney general's office, click here

Facts not fear: Putting COVID-19 into context

WTOL 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit /coronavirus-covid-19 for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan specifically, learn more about the symptoms and keep tabs on the cases around the world here. Have a question? Text it to us at 419-248-1100.

Protect yourself from coronavirus

  • Cover: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Dispose: Throw used tissues in a lined can.
  • Wash hands: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
  • Hand sanitizer: If soap and water are not readily available, use and alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching: Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

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