As the Department of Justice works to identify companies exploiting supply chain problems, here’s what consumers can do

The Department of Justice is launching a new initiative to identify companies that exploit supply chain disruptions in the United States to make increased profits in violation of federal antitrust laws.

Justice Department lawyers are concerned that the companies “seek to exploit supply chain disruptions for their own illicit gain,” the department said. And, if so, the Justice Department and the FBI will prosecute any antitrust violations they uncover, the department says.

“Temporary supply chain disruptions should not be allowed to conceal unlawful behavior,” said Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, who heads the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

Those violations could include agreements between individuals and companies to fix prices or wages or to rig bids, prosecutors say.

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As investigators scramble to find the offenders, Tom Stephens, president of the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida, says consumers also need to take some action.

“What I would tell people is try to be flexible, shop where you’ve shopped before, stay away from websites that are marketplaces where people can take advantage” , Stephens said. “I mean, there’s really no oversight. Try to stick with people you know and compare prices.”

Stephens is urging consumers, now more than ever, to start doing their own research into the items they want to buy, whether that’s determining the original manufacturer’s suggested retail price before purchasing a car or look up grocery store prices. The more you know, the less you are likely to spend.

“The big grocery stores send out a price flyer every week, so you can compare, you know, this one or this one or that one and figure out which one and see pretty quickly if someone’s overpriced something. And then when you go to the store, if you’re shopping at multiple locations, you have the ability to compare prices at the store,” Stephens said. “So that’s the thing, is to do your homework.”

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Stephens points out that Floridians should also report possible price increases to the state attorney general’s office, which is conducting its own investigation.

He says that, unfortunately, in any crisis or change in the economic situation, greed is very present.

“Maybe you can get by with something else, either of lower quality or a completely different item that does something close to the same thing,” Stephens said.

The items most likely to be inflated right now are clothing, gasoline, cars, computers and electronics, and furniture.

If you notice price gouging, you can call the Florida Attorney General’s office at 866-9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).

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