Minnesota’s attorney general says there’s been an upswing in reports of price gouging as the global pandemic unfolds. The findings come after Gov. Tim Walz signed an emergency order banning the practice.

Attorney General Keith Ellison said he has received more than 300 price-gouging complaints on goods and services deemed essential in the executive order. He said his office is taking those claims seriously so that residents aren’t taken advantage of in a troubling situation.

“We’ve just got to say that we’re not going to have people worried about their health contracting what could be a life-threatening disease — and on top of that, financial ruin,” he said.

As part of the crackdown, the AG’s office has sent secret shoppers on more than 70 visits to retailers to examine prices deemed suspect. It also reached an agreement with a St. Paul smoke shop that came under suspicion for selling some products well above their normal prices. It also sent a warning letter to the retail chain Menards, which has been scrutinized for price gouging in other states including Michigan.

Ellison said those examples show unfair price hikes aren’t affecting only certain communities but the entire region. He said they’re not cracking down on those businesses that have been forced to raise prices because the costs of those goods are going up.

“We’re going after people who appear to be taking advantage of the pandemic,” he said.

Ellison said anyone who sees what they believe is price gouging in a store is urged to report it to his office, which has an online form. He said having receipts and photos of prices can be helpful to their investigations.

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