– Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Lorelei Salas announced the Department has filed three additional cases against repeat offenders for knowingly increasing prices in violation of DCWP’s price gouging regulations under the City’s Consumer Protection Law. DCWP issued violations for selling face masks, bleach, disinfectant wipes and other products at drastically increased prices—for example, a business charging a consumer $27.99 for an 8 oz. bottle of hand sanitizer. The cases will be heard at the City's Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) where DCWP is seeking a total of up to $55,500 in fines.
“Price gouging is not just immoral – it is illegal. We will not tolerate price gouging and it is shameful for businesses to take advantage of consumers during a public health crisis,” said DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “If you have been overcharged, we urge you to file a complaint by calling 311.”
DCWP is actively inspecting stores based on consumer complaints. Businesses found to be overcharging consumers 10 percent or more for any personal or household good or service that is needed to prevent or limit the spread of or treat COVID-19 will be issued a violation. Examples of covered products include disinfectants, soap, cleaning products, diagnostic products and services, and medicines. Since March 5, DCWP has received more than 8,800 complaints and issued more than 4,400 violations for price gouging. Since March 25, DCWP has filed seven lawsuits against repeat offenders seeking up to $194,500 in fines for 389 price gouging violations. DCWP encourages consumers who are overcharged to file a complaint at nyc.gov/dcwp
or by contacting 311 and saying “overcharge.” 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. If the price gouging occurred while DCWP’s regulations were in effect, DCWP can prosecute the illegal activity.
On March 5, the Commissioner declared face masks
in short supply and that declaration was extended
with the addition of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on March 10. The declarations were made under the Rules of the City of New York (6 RCNY §5-38
), which allows the commissioner to declare certain items temporarily in short supply for 30 days during extraordinary circumstances. On March 15, the Agency 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 new coronavirus (COVID-19). The Rule(NYC Administrative Code §20-701(b)
) makes it illegal to increase prices by 10 percent or more during a 60 day period. The Rule can be extended once for an additional 60 days. The Rule covers any personal or household good or service—such as disinfectants, soap, and cleaning products, diagnostic products and services, medicines, and tissues—that is needed to prevent or limit the spread of or treat COVID-19. The fine for price gouging is up to $500 per item or service. If businesses are paying more to obtain these items themselves, they must provide proof to DCWP and any increase must be comparable. If a business paid $2 more per item, they cannot charge customers $50 more.
The NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCWP licenses more than 75,000 businesses in more than 50 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and, by helping to resolve complaints, DCWP protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCWP empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCWP also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities. For more information about DCWP and its work, call 311 or visit DCWP at nyc.gov/dcwp or on its social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Abigail Lootens | Melissa Barosy
Department of Consumer and Worker Protection