Florida residents are being asked to report price gouging to the state Attorney General’s office in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
People are posting pictures to social media that shows prices soaring for things like bottled water, a gallon of gas, and hotels.
With two months still left in the Pacific hurricane season, the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs is reminding residents to beware of price gouging.
“If the (National) Weather Service, for instance, there’s a hurricane looming and the weather service issues a weather warning for Hawaii, the prices are automatically frozen,” said Stephen Levins, executive director of the DCCA’s Office of Consumer Protection.
Hawaii law prohibits businesses from raising prices during a declared disaster or emergency situation.
“We have aggressively investigated every instance where someone would report an incident of price gouging,” Levins said. “We send investigators out to the store, we subpoena documents.”
If a business is found to be price gouging, it faces a hefty fine — $500-$10,000 per violation, according to Levins.
However, what might seem like price gouging may actually be already high-priced items.
“What typically happens in a situation like that is everybody goes out to the stores and they buy water and they buy the cheapest water first, but believe it or not, there is some water out there that sells for $5 a bottle or $10 a bottle. There’s no law that mandates that a merchant has to reduce those prices,” Levins said.
DCCA said it has happened before where a report was investigated but the state found there was no violation. This was the case when Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai.
“There were some reports or allegations related to price gouging having to do with generators for instance. We actually sent investigators to kauai to investigate that and again we were unable to substantiate those allegations,” Levins said.
The state said the fines for violating these laws can increase depending on how severe they deem the case to be.