ALBANY, N.Y. - The Attorney General's office is going after a tree removal company in Lake George - accusing it of ripping off victims of Tropical Storm Irene.
Eric Schneiderman's office says the American Tree Company was gouging prices, accusing them of hiking prices between 100 and 1,000 percent.
"American Tree engaged in a breathtaking scheme to price gouge innocent New Yorkers out of thousands of dollars," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. "The tactics used, and the excessive amounts charged, by this company during a time of crisis in the community shocks the conscience. Whether it is Tropical Storm Irene or Hurricane Sandy, our office has zero tolerance for price gouging and we are fully committed to enforcing the law."
According to papers the Attorney General filed in court, American Tree not only charged consumers unconscionably excessive prices, but also failed to disclose its fees prior to beginning work. In addition, the company provided inaccurate "lowball" estimates or false promises of full insurance coverage; failed to provide consumers with written contracts as required by law; inserted pricing information on documents after they were signed by consumers; charged consumers "emergency service call" fees even when consumers did not call them for services and issued invoices that contained false information.
The lawsuit follows an investigation by the Attorney General that found the company hiked its fees exponentially for Irene-related work, charging as much as $10,000 per tree for tree removal services and also hitting consumers with undisclosed $1,500 "emergency service call" and $1,000 "after hours" fees. As a result, many consumers were hit with bills totaling tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, at least ten consumers were charged exorbitant amounts ranging from approximately $11,000 to nearly $50,000, including an elderly consumer who was charged nearly $29,000 for work he never authorized. In contrast, in the month before the storm, American Tree charged no more than $4,000, and many bills were in the hundreds, not thousands, of dollars.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting the business from engaging in illegal and deceptive practices. It also seeks restitution and damages for consumers who were victims of price gouging, disgorgement of profits for Irene-related work, penalties and costs.
Consumers who used American Tree's services in connection with Tropical Storm Irene and think they may have been the victim of price gouging are urged to contact the Attorney General's office at 1-800-771-7755 or www.ag.ny.gov. Consumers with price gouging complaints arising from Hurricane Sandy can obtain a price gouging complaint form at www.ag.ny.gov/hurricane-sandy-price-gouging-complaint-form.