TALLAHASSEE – When Hurricane Matthew arrived, the storm brought rain, wind, destruction, loss and a certain desperation to Florida. It also brought out unscrupulous business owners who have used the disaster as a way to make some extra money by radically increasing prices on key products (particularly things such as gasoline and water).

Hurricane recovery efforts are hindered by price-gouging.
Hurricane recovery efforts are hindered by price-gouging. | morguefile.com/msand39

Prior to the hurricane making landfall, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi activated the Price Gouging Hotline as a mechanism by which residents could report concerns and complaints about businesses who were financially gaining from the destruction. To date, there have been just over 2,000 complaints logged.

While many residents look to the AG’s office for guidance and help when they feel like they are being taken advantage of, there are other options available. Kylie Mason, Bondi's press secretary, told the Florida Record that Florida Statute 501.160(7) states: "Nothing in this section creates a private cause of action in favor of any person damaged by a violation of this section."

Some businesses are doing their part to ensure prices remain fair, particularly on items that are needed the most. “We freeze prices immediately when a state of emergency (SOE) is declared," Stephen Holmes, director of corporate communications at The Home Depot, told the Florida Record.  We manage all of that centrally through our IT pricing systems, so it’s not a matter of monitoring it. Those prices aren’t lifted until the SOE is lifted, and we have a process in place to review those decisions, as well.”

There are still other companies that go even farther. “Ahead of Hurricane Matthew, Airbnb activated our Disaster Response Tool to help house residents who have been forced to evacuate coastal regions of Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina," Nick Shapiro of Airbnb told the Florida Record." "Through the tool, those temporarily displaced by Hurricane Matthew were able to secure emergency accommodations free of charge.”

Shapiro said his company hoped it helped mitigate the effect of the disaster.

“This was the first major hurricane threat this area has seen in years, and we are hopeful that Airbnb was able to help play a small part in making the evacuation process easier for residents and their families," he said. "Our thoughts continue to be with everyone impacted by the storm, and we thank the dedicated government and emergency response personnel who are keeping our communities safe.”

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