The Texas Attorney General’s Office is investigating hundreds of complaints of businesses hiking up prices to exploit Houstonians grappling with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
To date, Attorney General Ken Paxton has received 684 complaints of price gouging associated with Harvey, from $99 cases of bottled water to a service station charging $20 a gallon for gas.
Price gouging is illegal in the state of Texas and is defined as ‘selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine, or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price.’
The Texas Attorney General’s Office says it has received 684 reports of price gouging during Hurricane Harvey. Above, one publicized incident in which a Best Buy was selling $29 and $42 cases of bottled water
‘Anytime catastrophic storms hit Texas, we witness the courage of our first responders and the generosity of neighbors coming together to help their fellow Texas,’ Paxton said in a statement. ‘Unfortunately, in the wake of the damage from storms and flooding, we also see bad actors taking advantage of victims and their circumstances.’
Price-gouging complaints during Hurricane Harvey by industry
Service Stations – 202 records
Retail-Grocery & Convenience Stores – 171 records
Travel-Hotels, Motels, & Resorts – 20 records
Restaurant & Bars – 11 records
Retail-Stores – 6 records
Retail-Department & Discount – 4 records
Travel-Airlines – 2 records
Retail-General Merchandise – 2 records
Physical Fitness Facilities – 2 records
Miscellaneous Business – 2 records
Auto-Rental/Lease – 2 records
Utility-Electric Company – 1 record
Travel-Hotels – 1 record
Security & Protective Systems – 1 record
Internet Sales – 1 record
Internet-Market Place – 1 record
Health Care-Pharmacy – 1 record
Contractor-General – 1 record
Auto-Towing Company & Booting – 1 record
Grand Totals – 451 records*
* The Texas AG’s office is still working to catalog all of the price gouging complaints into specific industries, so the total does not line up to the total number of complaints: 684
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also spoke out against price gouging, calling it ‘un-Texan’.
Paxton has warned that those who violate the law will be prosecuted, and will face a heavy fine of $20,000 per incident. If the victim is over the age of 65, that fine is upped to $250,000.
A spokesman for Paxton said that most of the complaints have involved price gouging on bottled water, fuel, groceries and shelter.
A breakdown of the complaints show that at least 202 of the complaints are related to service stations. That breakdown isn’t complete yet though, as the AG’s offices is still working to catalog every complaint into a specific industry.
So far, the AG’s office has issued nine Civil Investigative Demands (CID) and are preparing more.
‘In a few specific cases, we’ve seen $3.50 for gas in Houston, $8.50 for bottles of water and $99 case of water complaints.
‘We also received a complaint about one Houston convenience store charging $20/gallon of gas and have issued a CID directly to that business. That last example was reported Monday afternoon and a CID was prepared that same evening,’ Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokesman for Paxton’s office, said.
Those who believe they are the victims of price gouging are being encouraged to make a report with the AG’s office, by filling out a form online, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1-800-621-0508 or 512-475-4413. Victims must submit a receipt along with a photograph of the gouged price.
‘We are getting photographs of a high price, but a receipt proves that someone is really charging it,’ Jim Davis, Deputy Attorney General for Civil Litigation told KVUE.
Several incidents of price gouging have already made headlines.
On Friday, a Twitter user shared a picture of cases of bottled water being sold at a Best Buy in Houston. One of the cases was being sold for $42 when it normally retailed for about $15.
A Best Buy spokesman later apologized, saying it was a ‘big mistake’.
The spokesman explained that they don’t even sell water bottles in their store, and that it was the idea of enterprising employees.
‘Not as an excuse but as an explanation, we don’t typically sell cases of water. The mistake was made when employees priced a case of water using the single-bottle price for each bottle in the case,’ the spokesman said.
‘This was a big mistake on the part of a few employees at one store on Friday,’ the spokesman said. ‘We’re sorry and it won’t happen again.’
A crew member for news station KXAN also pointed out that they were charged $289.99 for a room in Houston when rates are normally $119 a night.
A spokesman for the hotel chain immediately apologized and said they would be ceasing business with the local hotel owner.
‘We are deeply offended and saddened by the actions taken by this hotel. As a result, we are immediately severing any affiliation with the hotel. This hotel’s actions are contrary to the values of Best Western. We do not tolerate this type of egregious and unethical behavior,’ the statement from the hotel chain said.