Hit by a cascade of complaints from consumers, the New York Attorney General’s Office launched a probe on Monday into price gouging in the state in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
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The complaints centered on gas-price hikes but also include reports of jacked-up prices on everything from emergency supplies like generators to higher hotel rates and loftier prices for food and water.
“Our office has zero tolerance for price gouging," NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "We are actively investigating hundreds of complaints we've received from consumers of businesses preying on victims of Hurricane Sandy, and will do everything we can to stop unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of New Yorkers trying to rebuild their lives."
According to state law, merchants are not allowed to take unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services for an “unconscionably excessive price” during an “abnormal disruption of the market.” The law doesn’t spell out what constitutes unconscionably excessive, but Schneiderman said a before-and-after price analysis can be used as evidence of price gouging.
The legislation covers vendors, retailers and suppliers like supermarkets, gas stations, delis and taxi drivers.
While Schneiderman wouldn’t comment on specific accusations of price gouging, he reported receiving “hundreds of complaints” from consumers from New York City, the Hudson Valley and Long Island.
Schneiderman also gave tips to consumers to avoid being scammed during ongoing cleanup efforts: don’t pay in cash, don’t pay the full price up front, check with your insurance company, ask for references, demand estimates in writing and only use contracts with verifiable addresses.
Schneiderman also urged New Yorkers to make a complaint by calling his office at 800-771-7755 or on his office’s website.