Merchants in Manhattan and Queens caught price gouging during coronavirus spread: AG’s office

Attorney General Letitia James. (Photo: Mark Hallum/amNewYork)

As part of New York’s effort to crack down on price gouging related to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), State Attorney General Letitia James announced on Tuesday afternoon that two merchants in New York City were given cease and desist orders for charging excessive prices for hand sanitizers and disinfectant sprays.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) confirmed on March 7, after a referral from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, that Scheman & Grant Hardware, d/b/a Ace Hardware, in Midtown Manhattan, was charging $79.99 for 1200mL, or just over 40 ounces, of hand sanitizer, according to OAG.

Then on March 9, OAG investigators confirmed that City Fresh Market in Astoria was charging $14.99 for a 19-ounce bottle of disinfectant spray during the same period of market disruption, OAG said.

This past weekend, city officials issued fines to Scheman & Grant Hardware for price gouging on face masks, according to OAG, which noted that it would continue monitoring potential violations of the state’s price gouging statute. That statute prohibits the sale of goods and services needed for the health, safety and welfare of consumers at unconscionably excessive prices during any abnormal disruption of the market, OAG noted.

“On my watch, we will not tolerate schemes or frauds designed to turn large profits by exploiting people’s health concerns,” said Attorney General James in a statement. “While there remains no cause for widespread panic, some people are looking to prey on others’ anxiety and line their own pockets.”

James added that her office will remain vigilant against unlawful activity, and asked the public to report any suspected scams or price gouging to James’ office. James also thanked Mayor de Blasio’s office for referring the Manhattan price gouging case to OAG.

“It is imperative that all levels of government work in very close coordination during all coronavirus response efforts,” said James, “and I am grateful that we have such a dedicated group of local and state officials, healthcare workers, and emergency responders working around the clock to protect New Yorkers.”

“We are in the middle of a crisis, and we need to help our fellow New Yorkers,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Now is not the time to try and profit. Not only is price gouging immoral, it is also illegal. I thank the Attorney General for working with us to stop this practice in its tracks.”

OAG sent out a reminder that there is currently no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19, and that people should be on the lookout for fundraising solicitors or people offering goods and services related to COVID-19, including investment schemes offering to “get rich quick” for unproven treatments of the virus.

People can stay informed about COVID-19 by visiting sites for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov, and the NYS Dept. of Health, www.health.ny.gov, or calling a special COVID-19 hotline at 1-888-364-3065.

People can also call the OAG’s Health Care hotline with questions or concerns about health insurance costs related to COVID-19 testing or care, at 1-800-428-9071.