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City goes after gougers, sues Hester St. Supermarket

Gotcha, gougers!

On Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio and Lorelei Salas, commissioner of the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, announced three additional lawsuits — carrying fines of up to more than $100,000 — against repeat price gougers for knowingly jacking up prices in violation of the City’s Consumer Protection Law.

D.C.W.P. issued a total of 203 violations to the businesses for selling face masks, hand sanitizer, cough medicine and other products at drastically increased prices. In one particularly egregious example, one business was charging a consumer $20 for a single N95 face mask.

The worst of the three offenders was Hong Kong Supermarket, at 157 Hester St., in the Chinatown/Lower East Side area, with 139 alleged violations of price gouging for face masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. D.C.W.P. is seeking up to $69,500 in fines from the store.

Thomas Drugs, at 171 Columbus Ave., at W. 68th St., was slapped with 40 alleged violations of price gouging for face masks, gloves and cough medicine. D.C.W.P. is seeking up to $20,000 in fines.

Burns Pharmacy, at 68-04 Burns St., in Forest Hills, Queens, was hit with 24  gouging violations for hand sanitizer and face masks, with D.C.W.P. seeking up to $12,000 in fines.

The cases will be heard at the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings a.k.a. OATH, with D.C.W.P. seeking a total of up to $101,500 in fines.

On March 25, D.C.W.P. filed its first case against a repeat offender of its price gouging regulations.

“Taking advantage of New Yorkers in a crisis is unacceptable,” de Blasio said. “Don’t even think about price gouging in our city. We won’t stand for it, and we will hold you fully accountable.”

“If you continue to knowingly take advantage of consumers, shame on you! We hope the message is loud and clear — we will not tolerate price gouging,” Commissioner Salas said. “If you have been overcharged, we urge you to file a complaint by calling 311.”

D.C.W.P. is actively inspecting stores based on consumer complaints. Businesses found to be overcharging consumers by 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.

Covered products include disinfectants, soap, cleaning products, medicines and diagnostic products, services and tissues. Since March 5, D.C.W.P. has received more than 7,200 complaints and issued more than 2,700 violations for price gouging.

The department encourages consumers who are overcharged to file a complaint at nyc.gov/dcwp or by calling 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 D.C.W.P.

On March 16, D.C.W.P. 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 COVID-19. The rule makes it illegal to increase prices by 10 percent or more for a 60-day period. The rule can be extended once for an additional 60 days.

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 D.C.W.P. and any increase must be comparable. If a business paid $2 more per item, it cannot charge customers $50 more.

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