Amid the escalating warnings about Hurricane Dorian over the weekend, Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning residents of price gouging and urging them to call a hotline if they see it happening.
“Price gouging is harmful to Floridians trying to make storm preparations, and our office is here to stop it,” Moody tweeted.
“We need your help. If you see price gouging, report it by calling (866) 9NO-SCAM or use our app, NO SCAM.”
Moody’s office activated the price gouging hotline on Wednesday and extended it statewide once Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had declared a state of emergency for all of Florida.
The state has already received more than 500 complaints of alleged price gouging as of Friday, according to CBS Miami.
What is price gouging?
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) defines price gouging as increasing the price of an item “more than is justified” by its actual cost.
Florida’s laws make it illegal to sell “essential” goods during a declared state of emergency for a price that “grossly exceeds the average price for that commodity during the 30 days before the declaration of the state of emergency.”
Essential goods include food, gas, ice and lumber.
If someone suspects a higher price is being charged, one should gather “as much information as possible” through receipts or bills before reporting the activity to the attorney general’s office.
Florida put laws against price gouging in place after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Anyone guilty of price gouging faces potential fines of up to $1,000 per offence or a maximum of $25,000 per day, according to WPTV.
This is not the first time price gouging has come up in the run-up to a hurricane.
In 2016, during Hurricane Matthew, FEMA warned Florida residents about price gouging in affected regions as well as “scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals trying to prey on Hurricane Matthew survivors.”
The personal and financial fallout from a hurricane can be made worse for people because of scammers, FEMA warned at the time.
“Disasters often attract unscrupulous scam artists offering deals that sound too good to be true — and almost always are. Accepting these proposals adds more challenges to disaster recovery and can make it difficult to return to normal life,” FEMA said.
In 2017, Best Buy had to issue an apology after a photograph taken at one of its Houston stores appeared to show a case of water priced at $42 shortly after Hurricane Harvey.
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