Mayor De Blasio and Commissioner Salas Target Repeat Price Gougers

Mayor Bill de Blasio holds a media availability on COVID-19. City Hall. Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Lorelei Salas announced today that the Department filed a case against Metro Drugs, located at 931 Lexington Avenue, for knowingly increasing the price of face masks in violation of DCWP’s price gouging regulations under the City’s Consumer Protection Law.

DCWP inspected Metro Drugs twice and found on both occasions the pharmacy was selling face masks at drastically increased prices—as high as $200 for 20 masks. DCWP received 23 complaints about Metro Drugs and issued them 75 violations for price gouging of face masks. DCWP is seeking up to $37,500 in fines.

“We have zero tolerance for this behavior in New York City,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Any company who tries to take advantage of New Yorkers during this crisis will have their feet held to the fire. My message: just don’t do it.”

“We will prosecute businesses using this public health crisis to take advantage of New Yorkers who are concerned for their health and we urge consumers to file a complaint if they are overcharged,” said DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “To the business community: If you incurred additional costs to supply these items, we will take that into account but what we cannot tolerate is businesses that are knowingly preying on vulnerable consumers for a profit. Do the right thing. Don’t overcharge.”

DCWP is actively inspecting stores, and those found to be overcharging consumers 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. Since March 5, DCWP has received more than 4,000 complaints and issued more than 1,000 violations for price gouging.

Examples of covered products include disinfectants, soap, and cleaning products, diagnostic products and services, medicines, and tissues. On March 5, the Commissioner declared face masks in short supply and that declaration was extended with the addition of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on March 10. On March 16, the Agency promulgated an emergency rule that makes price gouging illegal for any personal or household good or any service that is needed to prevent or limit the spread of or treat new coronavirus.

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 DCWP and any increase must be comparable. If a business paid $2 more per item, they cannot charge customers $50 more for that item.