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Press Release


For Immediate Release:
October 2, 2014

Office of The Attorney General
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General

Division of Consumer Affairs
Steve C. Lee, Acting Director

Division of Law
Jeffrey S. Jacobson, Director
  For Further Information and Media Inquiries:
Jeff Lamm
Neal Buccino
(973) 504-6327

CONSUMER ALERT: With Peak Storm Season Approaching, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Reminds Consumers to Use Caution When Purchasing, Using a Portable Generator

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NEWARK - With the peak tropical storm season approaching, the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today reminds consumers to use caution when purchasing and/or using a portable generator.

"A portable generator is a major purchase – a relatively expensive item that your family will rely on for safety and good performance, should a prolonged power outage make it necessary, Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve Lee said. "Consumers should be careful and avoid the scams and pitfalls we have seen with regard to the sale of vital emergency items."

Just this past May, the Division of Consumer Affairs filed an action against a Monmouth County landscaping company that allegedly defrauded consumers by selling generators that had been recalled due to potential fire hazards.

And during the five days in October and November 2012 immediately following Superstorm Sandy's landfall, the same company allegedly engaged in unlawful price gouging when it sold generators to New Jerseyans scrambling to recover from the storm.   The company allegedly charged excessive price increases on these generators, with increases in markup of as much as 80 percent, during the declared state of emergency.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends November 30. Many New Jerseyans, aware that it only takes one landfall-making storm to cause a major emergency, will seek to wisely prepare by buying portable generators.

The Division of Consumer Affairs offers the following tips when purchasing these devices:

  • Determine exactly what your priorities will be during a prolonged power outage.  Will it be necessary to power your entire home, or just one or two appliances such as the refrigerator and radio?  Will you need to power an emergency-specific device such as a sump pump?  Does anyone in your household use portable oxygen equipment or other healthcare devices?  Deciding on these needs before you make a purchase will help ensure you choose a generator with the right amount of power.
  • In 2012, many New Jerseyans sought to buy generators during the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, while their families were affected by power outages.  Needless to say, making such purchases during the stress of an emergency can be extremely difficult and risky.  With any major purchase, it is important to know exactly what you are buying including all of its features, fueling and maintenance needs, and safety instructions.  In the best case, you will want to actually see and touch the item before buying.
  • Before making a payment, be sure you know and understand all the terms of the sale. Avoid sticker shock by obtaining a written copy of the final sales price.  Read through the seller's refund, return, and exchange policies.  Obtain written copies of any warranties. Keep these documents, as well as your receipt, in case it becomes necessary to file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs.  
  • Because at least one New Jersey retailer allegedly has sold generators after they were recalled due to serious safety hazards, check this list of recalled portable generators, drawn from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) alerts.  You can find CPSC's latest product recalls at http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/. Federal law bars any person from selling products subject to a publicly-announced voluntary recall by a manufacturer or a mandatory recall ordered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  New Jersey's Hazardous Products Regulations prohibit the sale of recalled products contrary to any order of the CPSC, as well as the advertising of any product that has been the subject of a recall, without clearly and conspicuously disclosing information about the recall.
  • If you consider buying a used generator, be aware that any warranty from the manufacturer may be limited to the original purchaser-owner.  If you are told that the manufacturer offers a warranty for the lifetime of the product regardless of its owner, contact the manufacturing company directly to verify that this is the case.
  • If you consider buying a generator online, beware of the scams that may lie in wait with any expensive purchase over the internet.  Verify the seller's physical address and phone number, and call the seller to ask about the item and sales terms.  Look online for customer reviews about the seller.
  • It is especially important to be careful when using websites in which strangers sell secondhand items to each other.  Never trust sellers who push for speedy completion of the transaction.  Beware of transactions in which the seller and the item to be sold are in different locations.  Be suspicious if expensive items are being sold at well below their market value. 
  • Consider paying by credit card.  This means of payment provides a clear record that will enable you to dispute the charges with your credit card provider, if necessary. 
  • New Jersey's price gouging statute, N.J.S.A. 56:8-107, et seq., prohibits excessive price increases during a declared state of emergency for merchandise used as a direct result of an emergency or used to protect the life, health, safety, or comfort of persons or their property. The law defines excessive price increases as more than 10 percent above the price at which merchandise was sold during the normal course of business immediately prior to the state of emergency. If a merchant incurs additional costs during the state of emergency, prices may not exceed 10 percent above the markup from cost applied in the usual course of business prior to the state of emergency. If you suspect a business has engaged in unlawful price gouging, contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846 or www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov.

Generator Safety

It is also important to know how to safely use your portable generator. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 800 persons nationwide died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators between 1999 and 2012.  About 30 percent of these deaths, 236 fatalities in total, occurred when portable generators were being operated during power outages.

The warning signs of possible carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea and vomiting, exhaustion, drowsiness, dizziness and lightheadedness, heart palpitations and chest pain.  If any of these symptoms are experienced, leave the house immediately, call your police or fire department, and do not re-enter the house until emergency responders say it is safe to do so.

When using a portable generator, consumers should:

  • Read all of the instructions carefully, including any instructions relating to safety and the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Never use portable generators inside the home, including in basements, in open doorways, or in garages. Instead, portable generators should be placed outdoors, as far away from the home as possible.  A minimum distance of 20 feet is recommended.  Make sure generators are properly positioned so as to avoid sending carbon monoxide fumes toward the home.
  • Your home should have a working carbon monoxide detector and a working smoke detector, especially when using a portable generator.
  • Always store fuel outside of the home, in properly labeled, non-glass containers
  • Before refueling the generator, turn it off and let it cool down. Fuel spilled on hot engine parts could ignite.
  • Keep the generator dry to avoid a potential electrical fire.
  • Plug appliances directly into generator or use a heavy-duty, outdoor-rated extension cord.
  • To learn more about how to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators and other sources, read the Consumer Brief produced by the State Division of Consumer Affairs here.

Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online 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.

Follow the Division of Consumer Affairs on Facebook , and check our online calendar of upcoming Consumer Outreach events.

 

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Last Modified: 4/7/2015 2:06 PM