Reports of ‘reprehensible’ price gouging on rise
Heroic volunteer rescue workers in their own boats are among the most indelible images of Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath, but the wake of the storm also is spawning dismaying reports of $99 cases of water and $20 gallons of gasoline.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office had received 684 complaints of price gouging and various scams and of fraudulent charities related to Hurricane Harvey as of Wednesday morning.
Most of the complaints “involve price gouging for bottled water, fuel, groceries and shelter,” said Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for Paxton.
Price gouging is punishable by fines of up to $20,000 per incident, or a penalty of $250,000 if a victim is 65 or older.
Lovvorn said Paxton’s office has issued nine civil investigative demands — meaning it has ordered suspects to hand over documents and other materials regarding their prices — and is preparing more.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who was asked about the reports of price gouging during a media briefing Wednesday morning in Austin on the recovery efforts, condemned the crime as “reprehensible” and “un-Texan” and said it won’t be tolerated.
“The attorney general of Texas is taking swift and aggressive action to prosecute price gouging,” Abbott said. “If you are a business, you can be put out of business by the Texas attorney general if you dare try any price gouging.”
Lovvorn said Paxton’s office received a complaint Monday afternoon of $20-per-gallon gasoline at a Houston convenience store and issued it a civil investigative demand that evening.
In other instances, she said, “we’ve seen $3.50 for gas in Houston, $8.50 for bottles of water and $99-caseof-water complaints.”
People who suspect they’ve been the victim of price gouging can report it in several ways, Lovvorn said. They can do so online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/file-a-consumer-complaint, or they can email Paxton’s office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They also can call the attorney general’s hotline at 800621-0508 or 512-475-4413.
Average retail prices for gasoline in Texas have climbed in the aftermath of the storm, according to auto club AAA, but not by huge amounts.
In Houston, the average price for regular unleaded gasoline was $2.17 a gallon on Wednesday, the auto club reported in its daily surveys, compared with $2.16 Tuesday and $2.12 a week ago.
The average price was about $2.19 a gallon in the Austin-San Marcos area, up from $2.15 on Tuesday and about $2.11 a week ago.
In Dallas, average prices climbed to about $2.32 a gallon Wednesday, according to AAA, up from $2.27 on Tuesday and about $2.15 a week ago.
The auto club’s daily surveys document average gas prices for the various markets. Individual gas stations set their own prices, so some charge more or less than the averages.
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks Wednesday during a press briefing at the Department of Public Safety’s Emergency Command Center in Austin. Abbott said price gouging won’t be tolerated.