TAMPA, Fla. — Hundreds of reports of price gouging came into Hillsborough and Pinellas counties during Hurricane Dorian, the Florida Attorney General's Office said Thursday.
There were 202 reports of suspected price gouging in Hillsborough County and 101 reports in Pinellas County related to the storm.
Statewide, consumer protection investigators received 2,994 reports.
Floridians used the new NO SCAM app to report 705 of those tips, the office said.
The Attorney General’s Rapid Response Team visited more than 180 stores.
According to the AG’s Office, the agency has facilitated about $1,200 in refunds, credits or adjustments so far.
It's illegal for businesses to excessively hike the prices of essentials like food, water, hotel rooms, ice, gas and anything needed in a declared emergency.
Florida law defines price gouging as "grossly" exceeding the average price during the 30 days before a state of emergency is declared.
“Our job before and during the storm was to prevent price gouging so Floridians could afford the essential commodities they needed. My Consumer Protection Division will continue to review complaints and take appropriate action to ensure anyone taking advantage of Floridians is held responsible,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said.
Only a fraction of price gouging reports during past hurricanes have led to legal action.
Out of the 14,000 reports of suspected price gouging during Hurricane Irma, about 7,600 were sent to the Consumer Protection Division for further review.
Out of all those, the agency pursued more than 1,000 for possible legal action.
“Every contact that is made with our office doesn’t always constitute price gouging – so, that’s number one. But we never want to discourage anyone from letting us know about a situation because it could, in fact, be price gouging and we need to know that so we can take action,” Moody said during an interview with 10News.
Many of the reports that come into the hotline don’t have enough information for investigators, Attorney General's Office spokesperson Whitney Ray said.
Some people leave out addresses, the name of the store or the item’s brand and size, he said.
He also said some reports are duplicates or from people who called the wrong agency about a hurricane-related problem.
Ray said the agency’s priority is solving these problems in real time by going out to businesses and getting them to lower prices immediately; suing a business months later doesn’t help people who need resources right away.
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