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Price gouging in a blizzard? AG James says consumer should be on the lookout

  • / Updated:
  • Staff Report 

There’s a new consumer alert after this past weekend’s major winter storm.

The blizzard that left more than two dozen dead is subject to a new advisory by Attorney General Letitia James, who says consumers and businesses should be on the lookout for price gouging from contractors and other service providers following Winter Storm Elliott.

New York’s price gouging statute prevents businesses from taking advantage of consumers by selling essential goods or services at an excessively higher price during market disruptions or a declared state of emergency.

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“New Yorkers should be on the lookout for fraudsters who may use this winter storm to take advantage of consumers,” said Attorney General James. “Charging excessive prices for essential products during emergencies is wrong, and it is illegal. This dangerous winter storm will impact communities throughout New York state, and I encourage everyone to stay warm, safe, and vigilant against price gouging. If any New Yorker believes they are a victim of price gouging, I encourage them to contact my office immediately.”

New York law prohibits businesses from taking unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services that are vital to their health, safety, or welfare for an unconscionably excessive price during times of emergencies. The price gouging statute covers New York state vendors, retailers, and suppliers, and includes essential goods and services that are necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of consumers or the general public. These goods and services include food, water, gasoline, generators, batteries, flashlights, hotel lodging, and transportation options. Contract services for storm-related damage, both during and after a natural disaster, are also covered by the state’s price gouging statute.

The state offered the following tips:

  • Shop around – Get at least three estimates from reputable contractors that include specific information about the materials and services to be provided for the job.
  • Get it in writing – Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed.
  • Don’t pay unreasonable advance sums – Negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job. Never pay the full price up front.
  • Get references – Check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers, and neighbors. Always contact references provided to you.
  • Know your rights – You have three days to cancel after signing a contract for home improvements. All cancellations must be in writing.

When reporting price gouging to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), consumers should:

  • Report the specific increased prices, dates, and places that they saw the increased prices, and the types of formula being sold; and,
  • Provide copies of their sales receipts and photos of the advertised prices, if available.

New Yorkers should report potential concerns about price gouging to OAG by filing a complaint online or calling 800-771-7755.