Attorney General’s Office Receiving Price Gouging Complaints

September 17, 2008

In the wake of Hurricane Ike, the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Complaint Hotline has received hundreds of price gouging complaints from across the state.

Most complaints allege price gouging on gas and lodging; others report price hikes involving food, water and power generators. The Office of the Attorney General has announced that it is investigating some consumers’ claims that they were unlawfully charged inflated prices for necessities including fuel, hotel lodging and other items.

Although Hurricane Ike is gone, Attorney General Greg Abbott said Gov. Rick Perry’s disaster declarations are still active, and the Attorney General’s Office continues to have enforcement authority to pursue price gouging complaints in 99 Texas counties. Under Texas law, vendors are prohibited from charging exorbitant prices for necessities such as groceries, clothing, medical supplies, lodging, repair work and fuel during and after declared disasters.

The emergency Consumer Complaint Hotline continues to have staff available 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. to receive price gouging complaints. Anyone who encounters gouging is encouraged to call the hotline at 800-252-8011. Information collected is relayed directly to agency investigators.

“A disaster declaration triggers heightened enforcement authority for the Office of the Attorney General under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. This authority protects Texans by prohibiting exorbitant prices for necessities, such as drinking water, food, batteries and generators,” Abbott noted. “Texans should keep written records and receipts of any transaction they believe constitutes price gouging. If speaking directly with the service provider does not resolve the dispute, Texans should call the toll-free complaint line or, if Internet service is available, file a complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.”

Abbott pointed out that although the law prohibits vendors from illegally raising prices to reap exorbitant profits during a disaster, it does allow retailers to pass along wholesale price increases to customers. For that reason, in some cases increased prices may not necessarily signal illegal price gouging.

On Sept. 7, Perry issued a disaster declaration for the following counties in anticipation of the landfall of Hurricane Ike: Anderson, Angelina, Aransas, Archer, Austin, Bee, Bell, Bexar, Bowie, Brazoria, Brazos, Brooks, Calhoun, Cameron, Cass, Chambers, Cherokee, Collin, Colorado, Comal, Dallas, Denton, DeWitt, Ellis, El Paso, Fort Bend, Franklin, Galveston, Goliad, Grayson, Gregg, Hardin, Harris, Harrison, Henderson, Hidalgo, Hill, Hopkins, Hunt, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Kaufman, Kenedy, Kleberg, Lamar, Lavaca, Liberty, Lubbock, Matagorda, McLennan, Montgomery, Nacogdoches, Navarro, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Panola, Parker, Polk, Potter, Randall, Refugio, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Shelby, Smith, Starr, Tarrant, Titus, Tom Green, Travis, Trinity, Tyler, Van Zandt, Victoria, Waller, Walker, Webb, Wharton, Willacy, Williamson, Wise and Wood.

On Sept. 12, Perry extended the declaration to include Burleson, Coryell, Freestone, Grimes, Houston, Madison, Milam, Leon, Robertson, Rusk and Washington counties.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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