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Schneiderman cracks down on Buffalo blizzard price gouging; issues consumer scam warning ahead of cleanup efforts

by jmaloni
Mon, Nov 24th 2014 09:10 pm

A.G. vows to prosecute wrong-doing, announces cease-and-desist order

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced his office has begun taking legal action against businesses that engaged in price gouging during last week's historic snow emergency in Western New York. The attorney general has already sent a cease-and-desist letter to one businesses accused of engaging in price gouging, and is investigating several complaints against other businesses alleged to have engaged in illegal price increases.

Also, as residents in Western New York are beginning to turn toward recovery efforts and face the prospect of flood damage as the record amounts of snow starts to melt, Schneiderman offered tips to consumers to help prevent them from being victimized by shady contractors performing home repairs and other work in the storm's aftermath.

"While the response to the tragic storm in Western New York has been overwhelmingly positive, a small handful of shady businesses are looking to use this moment of crisis to make a quick buck," Schneiderman said. "Few things are more reprehensible than exploiting a tragedy to prey on your neighbors. My commitment to the people of Western New York is to fight every day to crack down on scammers and fraudsters trying to take advantage of consumers who have already been victimized by this storm."

An alert that was issued by Schneiderman when the storm first began warned businesses to avoid inflating the price of necessary goods and services like food, water, gas, generators, batteries and flashlights. It encouraged consumers to report suspected cases of price gouging.

The attorney general's office is actively investigating several price-gouging complaints before the office and will continue to investigate claims in the storm's aftermath. Among the complaints already received are from consumers reporting a store increased the price of a gallon of milk by 28 percent - far more than allowed under the law - and snow removal companies charging at least three times the amount of their normal service to plow driveways. 

The attorney general urges the public to report any potential occurrences of price-gouging by calling 800-771-7755 or by logging on to the office's website at www.ag.ny.gov

The volume of snow that has fallen in Western New York over the past week has presented significant challenges to residents and may necessitate the hiring of contractors to assist with additional snow removal and home repairs. Reports of roof collapses and the possibility of flooding from warming temperatures are two areas of significant concern.

Consumers should protect themselves when hiring contractors to perform storm-related services by considering the following:

•Shop around. Get at least three estimates from reputable contractors that include specific information about the materials and services to be provided for the job.

•Get it in writing. Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed.

•Don't pay unreasonable advance sums. Negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job. Never pay the full price up front.

•Get references. Check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers and neighbors. Always contact references provided to you.

•Know your rights. You have three days to cancel after signing a contract for home improvements. All cancellations must be in writing.

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