In the wake of Hurricane Ike, the Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Complaint Hotline has received hundreds of price gouging complaints from across the state. Most complaints allege price gouging on gas and lodging; others report price hikes involving food, water and power generators. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is investigating some consumers' claims that they were unlawfully charged inflated prices for necessities including fuel, hotel lodging and other items.
Although Hurricane Ike has left the state, the governor’s disaster declarations are still active, so the OAG continues to have enforcement authority to pursue price gouging complaints in 99 Texas counties. Under Texas law, vendors are prohibited from charging exorbitant prices for necessities such as groceries, clothing, medical supplies, lodging, repair work and fuel during and after declared disasters.
The emergency Consumer Complaint Hotline continues to have staff available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. to receive price gouging complaints. Texans who encounter price gouging should call the hotline at (800) 252-8011. Information collected is relayed directly to agency investigators.
A disaster declaration triggers heightened enforcement authority for the Office of the Attorney General under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. This authority protects Texans by prohibiting exorbitant prices for necessities, such as drinking water, food, batteries and generators.
Texans should keep written records and receipts of any transaction they believe constitutes price gouging. If speaking directly with the service provider does not resolve the dispute, Texans should call the toll-free complaint line or, if Internet service is available, file a complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.
Although the law prohibits vendors from illegally raising prices to reap exorbitant profits during a disaster, it does allow retailers to pass along wholesale price increases to customers. Thus, in some cases, increased prices may not necessarily signal illegal price gouging.
On September 7, Gov. Perry issued a disaster declaration for the following counties: Anderson, Angelina, Aransas, Archer, Austin, Bee, Bell, Bexar, Bowie, Brazoria, Brazos, Brooks, Calhoun, Cameron, Cass, Chambers, Cherokee, Collin, Colorado, Comal, Dallas, Denton, DeWitt, Ellis, El Paso, Fort Bend, Franklin, Galveston, Goliad, Grayson, Gregg, Hardin, Harris, Harrison, Henderson, Hidalgo, Hill, Hopkins, Hunt, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Kaufman, Kenedy, Kleberg, Lamar, Lavaca, Liberty, Lubbock, Matagorda, McLennan, Montgomery, Nacogdoches, Navarro, Newton, Nueces, Orange, Panola, Parker, Polk, Potter, Randall, Refugio, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, San Patricio, Shelby, Smith, Starr, Tarrant, Titus, Tom Green, Travis, Trinity, Tyler, Van Zandt, Victoria, Waller, Walker, Webb, Wharton, Willacy, Williamson, Wise and Wood.
On Sept. 12, the governor extended the declaration to include Burleson, Coryell, Freestone, Grimes, Houston, Madison, Milam, Leon, Robertson, Rusk and Washington Counties.