Attorney General warns customers to be on the lookout for price gouging ahead of storm

From gas prices to tree-removal services, it is illegal for anyone to unfairly increase their prices during an emergency.
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 11:47 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2022 at 6:26 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A state of emergency is in effect in North Carolina as Hurricane Ian makes its way across the Southeast which means price gouging laws are now in effect. From increased prices at the gas pump to inflated prices for services like tree removal, Attorney General Josh Stein said he is serious about ensuring the protection of North Carolinians from predatory businesses looking to profit from the storm.

“If for whatever reason you need something because you need it, a trees on your roof, or you’re out or food and water and there’s no power, it is against the law for a seller to charge an unfair, unreasonably excessive price for that product. That is price gouging. And my office will enforce the law aggressively,” Stein said.

It’s something Southeastern North Carolina has seen in the past following storms like Hurricane Florence --- and it’s something that Stein says he has prosecuted and won.

“We’ve done that in Wilmington, and in southeast North Carolina after previous hurricanes, where tree removal companies came in and incredibly jacked up their prices to rip off vulnerable people who were in a desperate way. We brought something like a dozen of these cases against 27 different defendants and so far we’ve won back more than a million dollars and settlements and judgments for the people of North Carolina,” he said.

Determining price gouging isn’t an exact science since prices do fluctuate frequently, but Stein said if he can prove it, he will.

“For some things, it’s hard. I think some things are very objective, like what was the cost of a hotel room? What was the cost of gasoline? What was the cost of water? Other things about what does it cost to remove a tree, it may not be as simple but we will prove cases where it exists,” he said.

When you buy products at the store there might be legitimate reasons for increased prices, but other times Stein said there is no excuse.

“Most retailers want to do right by their customers and maybe the retailer paid a lot of money for an overnight shipment in order to be stocked up to provide to their customers. So their costs have gone up in which case, that’s okay. But other times, they’re just selling existing inventory at an inflated price to make a quick buck,” he said.

While price gouging is a major concern, there are other things Stein wants people to be on the lookout for, like scams from people pretending to be charity organizations.

“We see this devastation of Florida and it’s natural that we want to help those folks who are struggling, but be very wary about responding to emotional pleas, whether it’s by email, telephone, social media, because it’s so easy for criminals to fake those appeals. Instead, if you want to help, do a little research find those organizations that you know are going to do the job and help people through their tough times. You don’t want line a criminal’s pocket,” he said.

If you do find yourself in a situation where you believe you have experienced price gouging, filing a complaint with Stein’s office is easy enough and you can do so here, or by calling his office at 877-566-7886 (877-5-NOSCAM).