TALLAHASSEE - As Hurricane Matthew moved closer to Florida, residents were doing all that they could to prepare for the damage the storm was sure to bring. For Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, this meant activating the state’s price gouging hotline.
Bondi’s activation came on the heels of the declaration of a state of emergency in all Florida counties by Gov. Rick Scott. This declaration allows the state to put into place a number of protections and relief plans in advance of the impending destruction.
Price gouging is defined by Florida Statute 501.160 “...during a state of emergency, it is unlawful to sell, lease, offer to sell or offer for lease essential commodities, dwelling units or self-storage facilities for an amount that grossly exceeds the average price for that commodity during the 30 days before the declaration of the state of emergency, unless the seller can justify the price by showing increases in its prices or market trends.”
Whitney Ray, director of media relations for the Florida Attorney General’s Office, told the Florida Record that the attorney general is working diligently with the consumer protection division to investigate price gouging complaints.
"Anyone who suspects price gouging during this declared state of emergency should contact my office immediately," she told the Florida Record. "People should not take advantage of our fellow Floridians, especially during a crisis.”
Ray said that the line has been active.
“So far, our office has received an estimated 2,500 price gouging complaints and nearly every complaint has been assigned to a member of our consumer protection division for further review and investigation, if appropriate.”
James Miller, communications director for the Florida Retail Federation, told the Florida Record that Florida is prone to a number of different disasters like hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, and along with those are people trying to take advantage of others during times of crises.
"General Bondi has been extremely proactive and effective in her defense of Floridians and their protection against price gouging," Miller told the Florida Record. "By activating the hotline before the storm, it not only helps to make Floridians more aware of the possibility of price gouging, but also to encourage them to notify her office if they see it. Just knowing the hotline exists may deter people from price gouging and provide those in need with some peace of mind when they seek out assistance from a business post-disaster.”
Florida residents who feel that they have been a victim of price gouging can call 1-866-966-7226 (1-866-NO-SCAM). They can also visit http://myfloridalegal.com or mail in a description of their situation along with copies of all associated documents to:
Office of the Attorney General
Tallahassee, Fla. 32399-1050.