Broken Clouds 44° Good Afternoon
Broken Clouds 44° Good Afternoon

State: Nearly 700 gouging complaints post-Sandy

A Garden City resident fills gas cannisters in

A Garden City resident fills gas cannisters in Valley Stream. The state is reporting that more than half of the 700 complaints of price gouging have come from Long Island. (Nov. 8, 2012) Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

Nearly 700 consumer complaints of price gouging in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy have been received so far by the state attorney general.

About half the complaints are from Long Island, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. Most of the complaints, both locally and statewide, are about gasoline prices.

"We are actively investigating hundreds of complaints we've received from consumers of businesses preying on the victims of this massive storm," Schneiderman told Newsday. "We take every complaint seriously and continue to encourage consumers to alert us to any suspected price gouging."

Consumers can file a complaint by calling 800-771-7755 or filling out a form at hurricane-sandy-price-gouging-complaint-form.

Spokesmen for Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota did not return telephone calls this week seeking information about their response to gouging allegations.

Schneiderman announced a probe on Nov. 5 of Sandy-related increases in the cost of essential items such as batteries, fuel, food, water, generators, flashlights and transportation services. Before the Oct. 29 storm, he publicly warned retailers and others not to jack up prices.

The state's price-gouging law forbids merchants from taking advantage of consumers by selling products and services for an "unconscionably excessive price" during an "abnormal disruption of the market" such as a natural disaster, power failure, strike or war.

The law defines an "unconscionably excessive price" as a gross disparity compared with the amount charged before the market disruption occurred. Price-gouging is difficult to prove, experts said, and can require weeks, even months of investigation, to determine if a complaint should be prosecuted.

The state law covers supermarkets, gas stations, hardware stores, delis, taxi companies and other vendors, retailers and suppliers.

As part of his probe, Schneiderman has subpoenaed the online classified advertising service Craigslist for names of alleged gougers. He's targeting about 100 ads for everything from a $17 five-gallon red gasoline container for sale at $150 that may or may not have included gasoline to 12 gallons of gasoline for sale at $300.

Consumers have also complained to Schneiderman's office about the cost of electric generators, hotel rooms, food and water. He said, "My office has zero tolerance for price gouging on Long Island and the regions of our state devastated by Hurricane Sandy."

More news

Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to Newsday is free for Optimum customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.