Price Gouging FAQs

​​On Thursday, March 12, 2020, Governor Tony Evers issued Executive Order #72 declaring a public health emergency in the State of Wisconsin. This order also declared that the state is experiencing a period of “abnormal economic disruption" because of COVID-19. This declaration authorizes DATCP to enforce Wisconsin's price gouging statute until the emergency has ended. Effective July 3, 2020, Governor Tony Evers approved ending the declared period of abnormal economic disruption, allowing sellers to resume sale of consumer goods and services without the restrictions outlined in Wisconsin's price gouging statutes.​


What is price gouging?

Price gouging is a common term to describe when a seller charges “unreasonably excessive prices". Link to our Wis​consin's Price Gouging Statue Fact Sheet for more information on the statute.

Is the price gouging law still in effect?

Effective July 3, 2020, Governor Tony Evers approved ending the declared period of abnormal economic disruption, allowing sellers to resume sale of consumer goods and services without the restrictions outlined in Wisconsin's price gouging statutes. This means that price changes that occurred after July 3, 2020 are not subject to the price gouging prohibitions.​

Can I still file a price gouging complaint?

Yes. However, complaints about prices that increased after July 3, 2020, will not be investigated. If you observed a price increase on July 3, 2020, or earlier that you believe is price gouging, you can still file a complaint by contacting the Consumer Protection Hotline.

Is DATCP still investigating complaints about prices that were raised prior to July 3, 2020?

Yes. Complaints about prices that existed before the end of the emergency declaration are still being investigated, even if those complaints are filed after the emergency declaration has ended.​

Prices for some products are still higher than they were before the emergency declaration. Isn't price gouging still occurring?

While DATCP continues to investigate complaints about prices that were increased during the emergency, very few new complaints about price gouging have been filed in recent weeks.

So far wide-spread price gouging has not been identified by DATCP. Investigators have closed 35% of the complaints that have been received. Most retailers have been responsive and cooperative with our requests producing required information for our inquiries.

DATCP inquiries show that in a number of these complaints the seller did not increase prices by more than 15% above the highest pre-emergency prices. In some cases, promotional pricing (weekly sales) for certain items had ended but the base price did not increase after the emergency. In other instances, the seller was legitimately passing on wholesale cost increases or the seller had no previous sales of the product. Retailers also reported that regularly stocked items were not available so they had to find new suppliers or alternative products that came at higher prices than previous supplies.​​

​What does price gouging have to do with COVID-19?

It's not unusual to see an increase in prices during emergency situations like COVID-19, due to sudden increases in demand or decreases in supply. This can be frustrating and consumers may feel like they are being taken advantage of. However, most of the time these increases are legitimate and sellers are simply passing on increases in their own cost, which is allowable under Wisconsin's price gouging regulations. 

What counts as “unreasonably excessive"?

State law defines an “unreasonably excessive price" as a price that is more than 15% higher than the seller's highest price – unless an exception applies – within the last 60 days before a declared emergency. In this case, that is 60 days prior to March 12, 2020.​​

What are the exceptions to the law?

Sellers can still increase their prices by more than 15% during an emergency if:

  • The new selling price does not exceed the seller's increased cost plus normal markup,
  • The price of the item is required by law, or
  • The Governor's declaration requires it. (This is not the case in Wisconsin during this period of abnormal economic disruption.​

​What types of retailers, products, and services are included in Wisconsin's price gouging law?

Wisconsin's price gouging law applies to:

  • All sellers across the entire state, including manufacturers, producers, suppliers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers
  • Any consumer good or service purchased primarily for personal, family, or household uses

​​I saw something in the media recently about my local store being “investigated for price gouging". What does that mean?

DATCP has received hundreds of complaints of price gouging since Executive Order #72 was issued. After reviewing those complaints, the Department sends inquiry letters to retailers named in those complaints. Those letters request additional documentation from the retailers to justify their pricing. Once DATCP receives that documentation, staff thoroughly review the evidence and makes a determination on whether price gouging actually occurred.

It's important to note that having a complaint filed against a retailer or receiving an inquiry letter does not automatically mean that retailer has engaged in price gouging. Consumers should not assume that a retailer is price gouging solely based on the existence of a complaint. Depending on the complexity of the circumstances, determinations on these complaints may take weeks or months. Consumers can check DATCP's website for updates on which companies have been determined to be engaging in price gouging. 

I'm a retailer. What kind of evidence do I need to provide to support a price increase of more than 15%?

You should be able to support the new price with documentation that accurately demonstrates what your prices were before the increase, changes in supply chain pricing, and any other information that explains why the price increased (e.g., invoices, price quotes, etc.).

How does DATCP look into price gouging?

When DATCP receives a consumer complaint alleging price gouging, several steps are taken:

1​. First, staff review each complaint to determine whether it contains sufficient information to establish a credible complaint that price gouging has occurred.  Staff may request more information from the complainant if needed.

2. If the complaint provides enough credible information to suggest that price gouging may be occurring, DATCP sends an inquiry letter to the retailer in question. That inquiry letter does three things:

    • Advises the recipient that DATCP is following up on a complaint for price gouging, and summarizes the complaint;
    • Asks the retailer to review its pricing, and voluntarily align the pricing with the requirements of the law, as necessary; and
    • Requests information from the seller within 10 days which justifies their pricing.  This may include documentation regarding pricing prior to the commencement of the emergency, or support for a claim that the price reflects increases in costs to the seller.​

3.  DATCP staff then use the information provided by the retailer to determine whether price gouging has occurred. This involves reviewing whether the retailer was pricing goods or services more than 15% over the seller's higher price prior to the start of the COVID-19, and determining whether any legal exceptions were met. During the COVID-19 response, the most frequently cited exception is a claim that seller's costs have increased.

    • Numerous factors may affect a seller's costs, and may direct DATCP's inquiries. For example, if DATCP receives multiple complaints about prices rising in a similar area, and the retailer provides documentation that shows their prices reflected their actual costs plus a reasonable mark-up, this suggests that the price increase may be happening in other parts of the supply chain, such as distribution. DATCP will then inquire further up the supply chain to determine if all participants were pricing in compliance with the price gouging law.   

4.  If DATCP determines that price gouging has occurred, the department will pursue enforcement. This may involve providing a letter to bring the seller into compliance or, depending on the nature or severity of the violation, could involve working with the Wisconsin Department of Justice to seek a civil forfeiture and/or injunction.

5.  If DATCP determines that no price gouging has occurred, the department will send a letter to the retailer closing the inquiry.

How long does an inquiry into price gouging take?

This is the first time that the price gouging law has been enforced in Wisconsin, so it's unclear how long these inquiries may take. However, given the complexity of some supply chains, the volume of the complaints, and the length of the period of abnormal economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 response, inquiries are likely to take weeks, or even months.

I'm a retailer and I got one of these letters, but I'm not price gouging. What should I do?

Per the instructions in your letter, please send documentation justifying your pricing via email or mail to the staff member named at the end of the letter:

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP)

P.O. Box 8911

Madison, WI 53708​

If you have any additional questions, please contact Kevin LeRoy at Kevin.LeRoy@wisconsin.gov or (608) 224-2925.

I'm a reporter working on a story about price gouging. Can DATCP give me the names of the businesses in my area that have been named in price gouging complaints?

DATCP has determined that the names of the retailers who have received inquiry letters are available under state open records law.  However, having a complaint filed against a retailer or receiving an inquiry letter does not automatically mean that retailer has engaged in price gouging. Consumers should not assume that a retailer is price gouging solely based on the existence of a complaint.  Numerous factors go into making a determination on a complaint.

DATCP will not share the details of its ongoing communication with sellers as it works to determine if price gouging has occurred.  DATCP will, however, provide information regarding the resolution of these complaints on its website.  We conservatively estimate that some complaints could take weeks, or even months, to resolve.  

​How do I let DATCP know about price gouging I've seen regarding COVID-19?

​To submit a paper price gouging complaint, please fill out this form:

Exec. Order 72 Price Gouging Complaint Form

Exec. Order 72 Price Gouging Complaint (in Word) 

Once ​the form is complete, please deliver it to the Bureau of Business Trade Practices in any of the following ways:

Regular mail: DATCP, Bureau of Business Trade Practices, PO Box 8911, Madison WI 53708-891

Questions and forms can be emailed to​​: datcpusacomplaints@wisconsin.gov​

Fax: (608) 224-4937​​