Brooklyn Boro

Price gouging highest in neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19

November 9, 2020 Editorial Staff
A street vendor was doing a brisk business on Monday selling hand sanitizer and surgical masks. Photo: Alex Williamson/Brooklyn Eagle

Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Lorelei Salas announced Monday that, after analyzing the more than 10,000 complaints citywide about price gouging, the neighborhoods with the most complaints are many of the same neighborhoods that were hardest hit by COVID-19.

These neighborhoods, which are majority Black and Hispanic, are already financially vulnerable and, with median household incomes of approximately $30,000, can least afford to be gouged on lifesaving items like face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes.

“To see that racial and economic disparities extend even to price gouging is disheartening,” said DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “So many of the Black and Brown New Yorkers in these neighborhoods work on the frontlines — especially in low-wage service industries like grocery stores and restaurants.”

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Since March 5, DCWP has received more than 12,000 price gouging complaints and issued more than 15,200 violations for price gouging. The number of complaints received weekly has slowly declined since reaching a peak of 2,108 in mid-March and the Agency now receives a few dozen complaints per week.

Some of the most egregious violations include selling 8 oz. bottles of hand sanitizer for $27.99 and selling N95 masks for $20 per mask. DCWP will continue to actively inspect stores based on consumer complaints while the state of emergency is in effect.

To date, about half of the businesses that received violations have resolved the violations either through settlements or decisions from the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).

Image: DCWP

DCWP also filed a total of eight cases against repeat offenders, settled with one for $25,900 and received three decisions resulting in orders to pay a total of $68,750 in fines.

Price gouging is illegal for any product or service essential to health, safety and welfare during a declared state of emergency. DCWP encourages consumers who are overcharged to file a complaint at nyc.gov/dcwp or by contacting 311 and saying “overcharge.”

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Consumers who believe they were victimized by price gouging should keep their receipts and any information about the store where the transaction occurred and file a complaint with DCWP.

Six months ago, DCWP promulgated an emergency rule under the City’s Consumer Protection Law that makes price gouging illegal for any personal or household good or service that is needed to prevent or limit the spread of or treat COVID-19. On May 13, DCWP extended the rule for an additional 60 days and, as part of the extension, proposed a new permanent rule that contemplates future emergencies.

The permanent rule now makes price gouging illegal for any products or services essential to health, safety and welfare during a declared state of emergency. The fine for price gouging is up to $500 per item or service.


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