Harvey victims say stores are price-gouging

HOUSTON — Complaints are pouring in to Texas officials that some Houston businesses are charging exorbitant prices for essential goods, with one report claiming that a local store was charging as much as $100 for a case of drinking water.

During a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, it’s illegal to charge consumers excessively prices for basic necessities.

“You’re not supposed to artificially inflate prices of things that are emergency or needed during a disaster,” Dan Parsons of the Greater Houston and South Texas Better Business Bureau told CBS News in an interview.

The Texas attorney general’s office has already fielded more than 600 complaints since the storm hit on August 25, mostly about drinking water and gasoline. At some gas stations, prices has surge to as much as $10 a gallon. Although prices at the pump have risen as Harvey disrupted Gulf Coast oil refineries, the national average is  is $2.37 a gallon, according to AAA. Houston-area hotels have also been reported for tripling and quadrupling prices.

The Texas attorney general’s office said anyone who thinks they’re being gouged on prices should first raise the issue with the seller.  If the matter can’t be resolved one-on-one, consumers should save their receipts and file an official complaint.

More than 30 states have passed anti-gouging laws. In Texas, violators can be fined as much as $20,000. If the victim is over 65, the fine can be as high as $250,000.

The Better Business Bureau says gouging is a common problem following natural disasters.

“You want credit card purchases, something you can go back to and say, ‘Look, here’s the prevailing market price. Here’s what I was charged,’ and even better go back in three weeks and say, ‘Look what the price is now,’ ” Parsons said.

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Source: CBS News – Moneywatch

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