Now that South Carolina is under a State of Emergency for Hurricane Florence, state Attorney General Alan Wilson is alerting consumers that anti-price gouging laws are now in effect.
“We can expect normal price increases, but we may see businesses and individuals looking to unfairly take advantage of the situation through price gouging of food, gasoline, lodging, and other commodities as defined by the statute,” Wilson said. “By our law, that’s a criminal violation and an unfair trade practice.”
The price-gouging law (SC §39-5-145) is a general ban of unconscionable prices during times of disaster. It goes into effect until the state of emergency expires or is terminated. Price gougers can be charged for excessive pricing.
“It’s important to keep in mind that a price increase is not necessarily price gouging, even if it’s a really big increase,” Wilson said. “It could be the normal effects of supply and demand.”
Wilson said reported cases will not be investigated until after a storm has passed, so those who feel they have been victims of price gouging should gather as much evidence as possible.
“We don’t have investigators,” he explained of the process. “We contact local law enforcement to investigate and they’ll be busy before a storm. But after a storm we’ll have them look into price gouging claims and we will prosecute those that warrant it.”
“Price gouging will not be investigated on the spot,” Governor Henry McMaster said during a Hurricane Florence news conference Tuesday.
When reporting a claim, Wilson said, “Note the time, address and name of the gas station or other business along with the price you paid. Write down prices nearby and the same information on those stations or businesses. Take pictures that identify the gas station or business along with the price and keep your receipt.”
Wilson also said to include your personal contact information in case someone from his office has questions about your complaint.
If you’re concerned about price gouging in a hotel, the back of the hotel room door has posted rate information that shows the range that rates may fluctuate between depending on demand.
Click here to file a complaint online or call the Attorney General’s Constituent’s Affairs hotline at 803-737-3953.