BY BETH DEDMAN
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Lorelai Salas, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Commissioner, filed a case against Metro Drugs March 25 for knowingly increasing the price of face masks, which violated the DCWP’s price gouging regulations under the City’s Consumer Protection Law.
The DCWP caught Metro Drugs selling face masks at prices as high as $200 for 20 masks twice. The DCWP has received 23 complaints about Metro Drugs and issued them 75 violations for price gouging the face masks.
The DCWP is seeking $37,500 in fines in the case, which will be heard at the City’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.
This is the first of several cases that the DCWP will be filing against repeat offenders of its price gouging regulations.
“We have zero tolerance for this behavior in New York City,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Any company who tries to take advantage of New Yorkers during this crisis will have their feet held to the fire. My message: just don’t do it.”
The DCWP is inspecting stores based on consumer complaints. Businesses that are overcharging consumers 10% or more for any good or service that is needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be issued a violation.
“We will prosecute businesses using this public health crisis to take advantage of New Yorkers who are concerned for their health and we urge consumers to file a complaint if they are overcharged,” DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas said. “To the business community, if you incurred additional costs to supply these items, we will take that into account but what we cannot tolerate is businesses that are knowingly preying on vulnerable consumers for a profit. Do the right thing. Don’t overcharge.”
Examples of covered products include disinfectants, soap, and cleaning products, diagnostic products and services, medicines and tissues, according to the DCWP.
The DCWP is encouraging consumers who think they suffered from price gouging to keep their receipts and any information about the store where the transaction occurred, and file a complaint or contact 311 and say “overcharge.”
Since March 5, the DCWP has received more than 4000 complaints and issued more than 1000 violations for price gouging.
The fine for price gouging is up to $500 per item. If businesses are paying more to obtain these items themselves, they must provide proof to DCWP and any increase must be comparable.