Consumer alert: Attorney General James asks consumers to report price gouging of at-home COVID-19 testing kits

FILE PHOTO: A hand written sign reads “No Covid Tests” in Somerville
A hand-written sign reading “No Covid Tests” is attached to the door of a pharmacy.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

New York Attorney General Letitia James last week issued a consumer alert to New Yorkers concerning potential price gouging of over-the-counter coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing products for at-home use, as well as other in-demand essential products. 

The Dec. 21 alert came in light of a surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, which has resulted in the rise of New Yorkers seeking to use at-home testing kits before gathering with friends and loved ones for the holidays. 

“As New York sees an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases, more and more New Yorkers are looking for at-home tests and other tools in the fight against the coronavirus,” said Attorney General James. 

“If New Yorkers see exorbitant price increases on testing kits or other goods vital and necessary for health, safety and welfare, they are encouraged to report it my office immediately,” she added. “And fraudsters are on notice that if they attempt to price gouge during this new surge, we will not hesitate to take action.” 

The Office of Attorney General (OAG) has received complaints of COVID-19 testing products being sold at double or triple its retail price. 

James said a standard BinaxNOW brand test kit at a New York store, like Walgreens, costs about between $14 and $25 for a package of two tests.

“However, there has been alleged reports of the same products being unlawfully sold for more than $40 and up to $70 per package,” she said. 

James said New York law prohibits merchants from taking unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services that are vital to their health, safety, or welfare for an “unconscionably excessive” price. 

“An excessive price would be represented by a gross disparity between the price of the product immediately prior to and after such an occurrence,” she said, stating that, last year, a law was passed that substantially strengthened her ability to bring charges against individuals and entities violating New York state’s price gouging statute, as they sought to excessively increase prices on essential goods and services during pandemics or other emergencies. 

James said the action is the latest in her efforts to protect consumers from fraudulent conducts and deceptive practices. 

In addition to sending more than 1,900 cease and desist letters to merchants since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the OAG also stopped three third-party sellers that used Amazon to price gouge on hand sanitizers and disinfectants, and sued a major egg distributor for exorbitantly raising the price of eggs that resulted in James securing 1.2 million eggs to help feed needy New Yorkers. 

James said her office continues to monitor entities across the state for deceptive practices and price gouging schemes. 

Any New Yorker who is aware of or believes that they have been the victim of price gouging is encouraged to file a complaint online or call 800-771-7755.