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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 19, 2005
CONTACT:  JoAnn Carrin (850) 245-0150

Attorney General Warns Against Price Gouging

~ Tropical Storm Rita prompts declaration of emergency ~

TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Charlie Crist today warned unscrupulous businesses operators against taking advantage of Florida residents and visitors as they cope with potential emergency conditions brought on by Tropical Storm Rita. Crist mobilized his office and activated a toll-free hotline at 1-866-966-7226 to handle consumer calls over possible price gouging. The Attorney General's action follows Governor Jeb Bush's official declaration of an emergency, and extends emergency provisions related to emergencies declared earlier this year.

"As we prepare for yet another storm, price gougers need to beware that price gouging will not be tolerated," said Crist. "We are prepared, and we will prosecute."

Those who suspect price gouging should call the Attorney General's hotline at 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.

During last year's record-setting hurricane season, the Attorney General's Office received 8,911 complaints through its price gouging hotline. The office initiated 58 formal investigations and filed 13 price gouging lawsuits against hotels, generator businesses, tree removal companies and other businesses. To date the Attorney General's Office has recovered more than $725,000 in restitution for Florida consumers from settlements and other resolutions stemming from the 2004 hurricane season. Other investigations and settlement negotiations are ongoing.

Under Florida law, a commodity's price is unconscionable if it represents a "gross disparity" from the average price of that commodity during the 30 days immediately prior to the declared emergency. This applies unless the increase is attributable to additional costs incurred by the seller or to national or international market trends.

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. A new law enacted this year criminalizes price gouging and provides that during a declared state of emergency, any person who offers goods and services for sale to the public without possessing an occupational license commits a second-degree misdemeanor.

Crist also cautioned consumers to be wary of business scams that might arise in the wake of Tropical Storm Rita, including building repair and tree removal companies that come into storm-affected areas. The Attorney General said residents should deal whenever possible with established local companies when they contract for repairs or arrange financing to pay for any repairs that might not be covered by insurance.

Consumers should be wary of any unsolicited "contractor" who knocks on the door with an offer to fix a damaged roof or windows. Before signing any contracts, Floridians should check the contractor's license, payment terms and other provisions, Crist said.

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Last updated: November 09, 2007

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