How to Protect Yourself: Price-Gouging After a Hurricane
The victims of any natural disaster, be it a hurricane, flood or other natural disaster, have unfortunately become victims of scam artists out to profit from the misery of others. Below is some information on how to protect yourself from becoming a further victim after an initial disaster strikes.
Following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the State of Florida enacted a law that prohibits "price gouging" after a declared state of emergency.
During a declared state of emergency, the law bans unconscionable increases in prices in the rental or sale of essential commodities, which would include lumber, ice, water, chemicals, generators, shelter and other necessary goods and services once a state of emergency has been declared by the governor. It is also unlawful to raise hotel rental rates or housing lease rates under Florida’s price gouging laws.
The Florida Office of the Attorney General investigates every allegation of price gouging. Pursuant to Florida’s price gouging laws, the Office of the Attorney General compares the reported price of the commodity or service during the declared state of emergency to the average price charged over the 30-day period prior to the state of emergency. If there is a “gross disparity” between the prior price and the current charge, it is considered price gouging. It is not considered price gouging if the seller can justify the current price by showing an increase in the price of their supplies or market trends. Additionally, the price gouging statute does not apply to non-essential luxury goods like alcoholic beverages and cigarettes.
Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period. In addition to the civil penalties for price gouging, state law criminalizes the sale of goods and services to the public without possession of an occupational license. Violators of the law can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.