Photo Courtesy of the Attorney General’s Office
“New Yorkers should be wary of fraudsters who use severe winter weather as an excuse to illegally line their pockets,” AG Schneiderman said.
By Forum Staff
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently issued a consumer alert encouraging New Yorkers to contact his office if they experience any potential price gouging for winter weather-related goods and services.
Schneiderman noted that General Business Law prohibits excessive increases in prices of essentials such as food, water, gas, generators, batteries, flashlights, hotel lodging, and transportation, during natural disasters or other events that disrupt the market. During and after severe winter weather events, these goods and services might also include snow plowing, snow removal from roofs, shovels and other snow-removal equipment, salt, and contract services for storm-related damage.
The State’s Price Gouging Law prohibits merchants from taking unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services for an “unconscionably excessive price” during an “abnormal disruption of the market.” The law covers New York vendors, retailers, and suppliers, including supermarkets, gas stations, hardware stores, bodegas, delis, and taxi and livery cab drivers.
Schneiderman also cautioned consumers to protect themselves when hiring contractors to perform storm-related services by considering the following:
• 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.
“New Yorkers should be wary of fraudsters who use severe winter weather as an excuse to illegally line their pockets,” Schneiderman added. “We will not tolerate those who seek to exploit weather emergencies at the expense of New Yorkers. Any New Yorker that believes they may have been the victim of price gouging should contact my office right away.”
In January, the attorney general announced an investigation into possible misconduct by propane suppliers across New York. The investigation follows dozens of complaints received by his office during the recent record cold front regarding major delays in delivery, possible price gouging, and other issues.
According to Schneiderman, many residents complained that they called their propane company for days and couldn’t get a timely response, or any response at all. Some people who received a weekend delivery, but had been calling since early in the week, were forced to pay a weekend delivery fee, upwards of $150 or $200. In other instances, companies refused to fill another company’s tank and suggested that consumers buy a new tank from their company. Some residents also complained about high prices and sharp price increases.
Schneiderman said he is encouraging New Yorkers to report potential fraud to his office hotline at (518) 776-2000, or file a complaint online by visiting ag.ny.gov/price-gouging-complaint-form.