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Beware the post-snowstorm price gougers

A man clears a sidewalk in Brooklyn on Friday after a storm that left up to 8 inches of snow in New York.
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A man clears a sidewalk in Brooklyn on Friday after a storm that left up to 8 inches of snow in New York.

When crisis comes, so do the crooks.

With that in mind, consumer watchdogs are warning people to wary of overpaying for services and goods they need as a result of the latest weather to wallop the Northeast.

"Unfortunately, alongside acts of goodwill and kindness, a major storm like this also brings out bad actors who take advantage of their customers," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement Thursday, also warning vendors, retailers and suppliers against overcharging for emergency service.

(Read more:Thousands of flights canceled due to snowstorm)

"This notification should serve as a reminder to vendors and their consumers that state law prohibits price gouging at times when nature demonstrates its disruptive fury," Schneiderman wrote. "The New York General Business law forbids those who sell essential consumer goods and services from charging excessive prices during what is clearly an abnormal disruption of the market. Those who do so will ultimately see a reduction in their profits, and will be faced with penalties, fines and directives to set up reimbursement funds."

The storm, which dropped as much of two feet of snow in some regions, continues to torment with sub-zero wind chills. And not everyone had a plan to dig out.

"When people don't do their research up front, they can get stuck," said Paula Fleming, vice president of the Better Business Bureau office covering Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island. She said her office typically gets calls after storms of this size, when it's not uncommon for people to charge $150 for a shoveling job.

But by noon on Friday the office had logged only one call, from a woman who said her gas company said it would charge extra to fix her water heater because of the storm.

Price gouging is relatively uncommon on food staples required during a winter storm, said Randy Allen, a senior lecturer at Cornell Johnson Graduate School of management, adding that it more often occurs during cleanup.

'It can be a problem after storms, probably more so after hurricanes and floods than after a snowstorm," she said.

Still, people can get ripped off on snow and ice removal.

'It's always a good idea to get multiple estimates to get somebody to plow it ... and to go back and see what you paid for it last year," Allen said.

(Read more: Sandy's parting gift: Mold still grows in NY walls)

Gouging was a problem after Superstorm Sandy, in October 2012. In new Jersey alone, more than 2,000 complaints were reviewed by the state's consumer affairs office. Those investigations led to 27 lawsuits and $816,313 paid in civil penalties by the one-year anniversary of the storm, according to the office's Consumerwise bulletin.

—By CNBC's Amy Langfield. Follow her on Twitter at @AmyLangfield.

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