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AG James on lookout for gas price gouging, asks consumers to watch too

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a candlelight vigil in honor of National Crime Victims' Rights Week on Monday, April 19, 2021 in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

New York Attorney General Letitia James Thursday warned gas station owners against inflating prices in the wake of the recent hacker shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline — and asked local motorists to tell her office if they suspect it.

New York is less dependent on the pipeline than states in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic region where large numbers of gas stations have run dry amid panic buying. The fuel-price monitoring app GasBuddy as of Thursday had not found stations out of gas in New York.

AAA Northeast spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. said while there appears to be no impact so far on pump prices in Nassau and Suffolk, it's always conceivable unscrupulous station owners could try to play on driver anxiety.

"Islandwide this shouldn’t be a problem. But, without a doubt, it’s within the realm of possibilities, because there's always someone [some retailer] who will try to take advantage of the situation," he said.

The national average this week for a gallon of unleaded regular is $3.02, Sinclair said, while the average for New York state is $3.04 and the average for Nassau and Suffolk is $3.03.

The disruption in the fuel market occurred when the computer system used to control the Colonial Pipeline was hacked last Friday, leading to a temporary shutdown of the pipeline, which serves much of the eastern U.S. Colonial says its bringing its systems back online.

In her statement, James said New York law prohibits sellers of fuel and other vital and necessary goods from "excessively increasing their prices" during a market disruption, including those caused by shortages. Sellers may be allowed to increase prices to cover their cost increases, but James said "if our office sees profiteers take advantage of consumers by boosting prices to excess levels, we will not hesitate to take legal action."

Consumers should report any suspected gouging, including specific increased prices, dates and places where the increase took place, as well as the type of fuel being sold, James said. Copies of sales receipts and photos of the advertised prices should also be included, if possible, when filing a complaint, James said. She said gas stations under suspicion of price gouging must have evidence to justify any instituted price increases.

For more information on how to file a complaint, consumers can go to: ag.ny.gov.

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