Bryan Cohen Nov. 6, 2012, 8:08pm

NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) - New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced on Monday that his office will look into post-Hurricane Sandy price gouging after receiving hundreds of consumer complaints from across the state.

Schneiderman issued an open letter to New York vendors before the storm made landfall to warn against price gouging. General Business Law prohibits increases in costs of essential items like flashlights, batteries, generators, gas, water and food, as well as services such as transportation during natural disasters or other disruptive events.

"Our office has zero tolerance for price gouging," Schneiderman said. "We are actively investigating hundreds of complaints we've received from consumers of businesses preying on victims of Hurricane Sandy, and will do everything we can to stop unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of New Yorkers trying to rebuild their lives."

Schneiderman's office received hundreds of price gouging-related complaints from consumers in the Hudson Valley, on Long Island and in New York City. Most complaints were related to increased gasoline prices, while others were related to food, water, generators and hotels.

Schneiderman said that the complaints might not meet the threshold for coverage under the state's gouging law, but he encouraged consumers to contact his office about suspicious pricing.

"Our office is taking every complaint seriously," Schneiderman said. "Staff from regional offices across the state are triaging and acting on consumer complaints as they come in. We have contacted the targets as part of a preliminary inquiry and vendors are now on notice. While most retailers understand that customers are also neighbors, and would never think of taking advantage of New Yorkers during such disruptive times, emergency circumstances always require an extra sense of vigilance."

The state's price gouging law takes effect on triggered events that abnormally disrupt the market, such as power failures, strikes, war, weather events, national or local emergencies, and other causes. The law states that a price may be unconscionably excessive if the amount represents a gross disparity between the price of the goods or services during the disaster versus the price in the usual course of business.

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