Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs warned residents about the ways they could be cheated or scammed, and they warned merchants not to take advantage of those in need. The warnings arrived on the heels of violent storms that ripped through southern New Jersey over the weekend, causing extensive damage and leaving some residents in the dark through possibly the end of this week.

From bottled water to hotel rooms, some items’ prices may spike as they are needed the most. The same pattern could occur for services like water damage repair. However, under New Jersey law, price gouging is illegal during a declared State of Emergency or for 30 days after its termination. Price increases can not exceed ten percent.

“Any time you have one of these real disasters for communities, you have people that want to prey on them,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “They want to take advantage of people who are in real need of assistance.”

Violations of the price-gouging law are punishable by civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for the second and subsequent offenses.

Chiesa said there are other scams beyond price gouging that consumers should be on the lookout for, including false home repair promises and fake charities.

“They’re not only charging the people who have their own issues themselves, but they’re trying to cash in on the good will of people looking to help their neighbors,” he said.

Last year, during and after the State of Emergency declared in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, the Division of Consumer Affairs sent investigators out to all affected counties in order to provide information to consumers about price gouging, home repair scams, and charity scams; and to investigate and mediate consumer complaints related to the emergency.

“Every complaint we receive, we’ll get an investigator on it,” Chiesa said.

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.