Report Price Gouging To Attorney General
As some victims of Hurricane Ike first return to their homes this week, the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Complaint Hotline remains open for price-gouging complaints. The OAG’s emergency hotline can be reached at (800) 252-8011. Hotline staff is available between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to receive price gouging complaints. Information collected is relayed directly to agency investigators.|
Since Gov. Perry’s hurricane disaster declaration, the OAG has received hundreds of price-gouging complaints from around the state. Most complaints allege price gouging on gas and lodging; others report price hikes involving food, water and power generators. The agency is investigating some consumers’ claims that they were unlawfully charged inflated prices for necessities including fuel, hotel lodging and other items.
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.
Although Hurricane Ike has left the state, the governor’s disaster declarations are still active, so the OAG continues to have enforcement authority to pursue price gouging complaints. 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.
Although state 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. Thus, in some cases, increased prices may not necessarily signal illegal price gouging.
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.
ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.
Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.