Be aware of price gouging in wake of Hurricane Michael

Be aware of price gouging in wake of Hurricane Michael
Businesses cannot charge more than 25 percent above what they were charging in the last 30 days. Price gouging usually happens after a storm has already passed through and can occur anywhere. (Nusbaum, Lydia)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - When natural disasters hit, people are urged to stock up on supplies, but some businesses take advantage of the crisis and can drastically increase their prices in an effort to gouge consumers. That’s illegal.

“They just taking advantage of the people when they should be helping them in the crisis," said Marilyn Hileo, a Montgomery resident.

The Alabama attorney general’s office says many times some businesses take advantage of people’s desperation after a storm.

“Retailers know that. And they know that when the power is out and there is no running water, that people will get desperate and pay $25 for a case of water," said Emily Nichols, the consumer protection specialist in Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office. This includes items like supplies and hotels.

“The cost had gone from $56 a night to $120 dollars a night,” Nichols explained of one instance. And even gas stations aren’t immune.

However, Melissa Warnke, the Alabama Retail Association communications and engagement manager, said many retailers step up to help during these difficult times.

“It is far more likely that local retailers are the first to help in the aftermath of a storm," Warnke said. "We’ve already seen retailers in Alabama gathering supplies, clothing, money and food to send to storm victims.”

Since Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency Monday, the state’s price gouging laws have been activated. Businesses cannot charge more than 25 percent above what they were charging in the last 30 days. Price gouging usually happens after a storm has already passed through and can occur anywhere.

“Alabamians should be cautious of those who would seek to prey upon them through crimes such as price gouging and home repair fraud,” said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.

The penalty is a fine up to $1,000 per violation. Those who have willfully and continuously violated the law might be stopped from doing business in Alabama.

People can report alleged price gouging to the Attorney General’s Consumer Interest Division by calling 1-800-392-5658 or visit the website to fill out a complaint.

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