TALLAHASSEE – LAWFUEL – Press Release Service – Attorney General Charlie Crist today advised Floridians to begin preparing early as the state anticipates Hurricane Ernesto’s landfall later this week. In addition to encouraging early preparation, Crist urged residents and visitors to use caution when purchasing necessities prior to the storm and when hiring workers to help clean up from its aftermath.
As Florida prepares for the possibility of another significant storm threatening the state, Crist reminded citizens to beware of businesses or individuals overcharging for food, water, ice, gas, lodging and generators and for materials or services needed to prepare for the storm. This practice, known as price gouging, is against the law in Florida under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
“When your family’s safety is on the line, it’s never too early to start preparing,” said Crist. “It looks like Florida may be squarely in this hurricane’s cross-hairs, and Floridians should start getting ready.”
Those who suspect price gouging before or after the storm should call the Attorney General’s hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226), and investigators will look into the complaint. Florida law prohibits extreme increases in the price of such commodities as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment needed as a direct result of an officially declared emergency.
Under Florida law, a commodity’s price is considered unconscionable if the increase in the price represents a “gross disparity” from the average price of that commodity during the 30 days immediately prior to the declared emergency. Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to civil penalties of $1,000 per violation, up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period.
In addition to the civil penalties for price gouging, a law enacted last year criminalizes the sale of goods and services to the public during a declared state of emergency by anyone who does not possess an occupational license. Violators of the law can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.
During the previous two record-setting hurricane seasons, the Attorney General’s Office conducted thousands of preliminary investigations into price gouging complaints, initiated 83 formal investigations and filed
17 price gouging lawsuits against hotels, generator businesses, tree removal companies and other businesses. To date, the Attorney General’s Office has recovered more than $1.3 million in restitution or reimbursements for Florida consumers from price gouging settlements and other resolutions. Other investigations and settlement negotiations are ongoing.