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Coronavirus: Price Gouging and Greed on Display During a Global Pandemic

During emergencies, the availability of goods and services necessary for the welfare of the public is often in shortage. In response to the potential lack of goods, demand increases, and consumers engage in panic buying and hoarding of personal necessities. Due to the reduction in the supply and increased demand for certain products, it is commonplace for individuals (or merchants)  to buy remaining supplies and sell at significantly inflated prices; resulting in large profits. This practice is known as price gouging.


The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has created a ripe environment for individuals and businesses to partake in price gouging. Necessities such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and medical supplies have been purchased in large quantities by individuals for resale or sold by merchants at highly inflated prices. As a result, these items have been nearly impossible to find and purchase at a fair price by the individuals or organizations that need them. Unfortunately, often times during emergencies the individuals or organizations that need these resources are the most vulnerable in society – the sick and elderly and those that take care of the sick and elderly.


Price gouging is illegal in New York State. Under New York State’s price gouging law (General Business Law §396-r), merchants and individuals are prohibited from selling goods and services that are “vital to the health, safety, or welfare of consumers” for an “unconscionably excessive price” during an abnormal market disruption or state of emergency. Under §396-r, a price may be unconscionably excessive if the amount charged represents a “gross disparity” from what the price of the good or services were sold at immediately prior to the disruption of the market. The price gouging law applies to numerous groups, including but limited to supermarkets, pharmacies, health care providers, gas stations, and general business/service vendors.


The law affords New York State consumers some recourse if they believe that price gouging is present. A complaint of price gouging can be reported to the Attorney General’s office via its website at https://ag.ny.gov/price-gouging-complaint-form, or by calling 800-771-7755. Furthermore, state lawmakers are working on new legislation that would limit stores from increasing prices on consumer medical supplies by more than 10%. The legislation would allow the Attorney General to fine retailers, manufacturers, and distributors who are in violation up to $25,000.


To help combat price gouging, consumers should only purchase what they need and refrain from stockpiling goods, allowing retailers to restock supplies to meet the increased demand. Additionally, consumers should report any suspected instances of price gouging to the Attorney General’s office via the website or toll-free number.


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