Attorney General James: “On my watch, we will not tolerate schemes or frauds designed to turn large profits by exploiting people’s health concerns.”
According to New York’s Attorney General Letitia James, greedy profiteers are trying to capitalize on the fear of New Yorkers amid the emerging coronavirus crisis.
New York Attorney General Letitia James ordered two New York City merchants to cease and desist charging customers excessive prices for hand sanitizers and disinfectant sprays. After a referral from the City of New York, Office of the Attorney General (OAG) investigators confirmed on March 7 that Scheman & Grant Hardware, d/b/a Ace Hardware, in Midtown Manhattan was charging customers $79.99 for 1200mL of hand sanitizer during a period of market disruption.
On March 9, OAG investigators found that City Fresh Market in Astoria, Queens was charging customers $14.99 for a 19oz bottle of disinfectant spray during the same period of market disruption.
“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. “While there remains no cause for widespread panic, some people are looking to prey on others’ anxiety and line their own pockets. My office will remain vigilant in ensuring that we find and stop such unlawful activity and continue to ask the public to report suspected fraud, scams, or price gouging to my office.”
While city officials issued fines this weekend to Scheman & Grant Hardware for price gouging on face masks, the OAG is tasked with enforcing New York’s price gouging statute, Section 396-R of the New York General Business Law, which prohibits the sale of goods and services necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of consumers at unconscionably excessive prices during any abnormal disruption of the market. The OAG continues to surveil and monitor businesses across the state for potential scams and price gouging schemes designed to exploit public concern related to the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“I want to thank New York City Mayor de Blasio’s office for referring the Manhattan price gouging incident to us,” said Attorney General James. “It is imperative that all levels of government work in very close coordination during all coronavirus response efforts, 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. Now is not the time to try and profit,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “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.”
The OAG also continues to warn New Yorkers that scammers commonly exploit real public health concerns and use heightened public fear to prey on consumers and profit from frauds related to those health fears. People should beware of fundraising solicitations and offers of goods and services related to COVID-19. There is currently no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19, but scammers may still offer fake vaccines and other bogus medical products claiming to offer “cures” for the virus. They may also offer “get rich quick” investment schemes for unproven virus treatments.
Additionally, scammers may set up sham charity websites and crowd-funding sites that request donations for virus-relief efforts for victims. Scammers may use emails, texts, and social media posts that appear to give virus updates but have malicious links that can steal sensitive personal identity information.
Attorney General James offers the following COVID-19 scam prevention tips:
- Beware of scammers selling bogus medical treatments and learn the facts about the coronavirus. There is currently no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent the disease, so ignore offers promising otherwise. Stay informed about the disease by visiting the websites of the: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov New York State Department of Health: www.health.ny.gov, or by calling a special COVID-19 hotline: 1-888-364-3065
- Report retailers that appear to take unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services that are vital to the health, safety, or welfare of consumers for an unconscionably excessive price. Report such incidents to the OAG.
- Use caution when making charitable donations. You should never feel rushed or pressured to donate, and never make donations in cash, by gift card, or by money wire. If you receive a charitable solicitation, do some research to determine whether the charity is legitimate. Here are some helpful resources: Charity Navigator offers a listing of reputable charities: www.charitynavigator.org The Better Business Bureau offers a website that allows users to look up charities and see whether they meet various standards of accountability: www.give.org You can report suspicious charitable solicitations and scams to the OAG’s Charities Bureau.
- Beware of coronavirus-related investment scams. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently warned investors about coronavirus investment frauds. If investors are aware of or suspect securities fraud or wrongdoing, they can contact the OAG’s Investor Protection Bureau online.
- If you have questions or concerns about health insurance costs related to COVID-19 tests or care, please call the OAG’s Health Care hotline: 1-800-428-9071.