Price Gouging After the Hurricane

Complaints about price gouging are keeping two state hotlines busy. More than 1,100 calls came in over the weekend and phones were ringing off the hook most of the day.

The complaints range from charging $5 for a bag of ice to more than tripling the cost of a hotel room. The phones are literally ringing non-stop at two state hotlines.

Each operator has their own story of people being taken advantage of during this disaster.

Dorothea Syleos with the Office of the Attorney General says, "A bag of ice for $2.00 a bag for a seven-pound bag of ice that is regularly $1.29. Somebody else called in and said they were charging like $5.00 a bag."

For the first hour and a half Monday morning, one call center got 75 complaints from all over the state. Some hotels appear to be especially bad, telling callers they have only two rooms and jacking up prices after guests check in.

Joann Carrin with the Attorney General’s Office adds, "The most egregious was a mother with five children who was kicked out of her hotel because she was not willing to pay the fee that they decided to start charging the day after she arrived."

Violators face a $1,000 fine for each instance, up to $25,000 a day. The complaints run the gamut.

Terry McElroy with the Department of Agriculture says, "We don’t believe that people ought to be paying any extra for these basic necessities over and above what they were the day before."

Dozens of investigators are in the field checking complaints as quickly as possible. In the worst cases, grand theft criminal charges could be filed.

Here are two numbers to help you with price gouging complaints: 1-800-HELP-FLA or 1-800-646-0444. The state is also cautioning people to ask for contractor’s licenses or occupational licenses as well as proof of insurance before hiring anyone to do repair or cleanup work.

They also suggest you don’t pay cash and don’t pay anything until the job is complete.