Florida activates price gouging hotline, when to file a complaint

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday night activated the state’s price gouging hotline.

The opening of the hotline comes as Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in all 67 Florida counties in response to threats posed by Hurricane Irma.

RELATED: Check local gas prices | Hurricane Guide | Latest on Irma | FEMA Flood Maps

“Floridians need to prepare now and they should not be inhibited by unlawful price increases on supplies necessary to brace for a major hurricane strike—that is why I’ve activated Florida’s Price Gouging Hotline and encourage anyone who suspects price gouging to report it to my office by calling (866)-9-NO-SCAM,” said Bondi. “By reporting suspected price gouging you can protect yourself and your fellow Floridians.”

State law prohibits extreme increases in the price of essential commodities, such as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment, needed as a direct result of an officially declared emergency.

However, the law doesn't specifically define what is considered an extreme price increase. 

According to the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida, if you believe a store is using Hurricane Irma to raise prices of essential items, and take advantage of consumers, file a complaint. 

Their rule of thumb is simple: if a price doubles, you should file a complaint.

"If you see something double in price, to me, that is significant," said CEO and President of the BBB of Southeast Florida, Rod Davis.

Additionally, Davis says consumers should not panic if essential items like food and water are in short supply at stores, as food chains are constantly receiving deliveries multiple times a day.

"Upfront, you're in a situation where there is a lot of demand, but they already have the supply in the stores," said Davis. "I think a storm that is going to come and sit around is going to create more of a problem for consumers."

However, since water is normally the first essential item to go, the Better Business Bureau has this pro-hurricane hack.

"Your tap!" said Davis. "Do your work beforehand. Fill up bottles, jugs, everything you have in the house. Some people even fill up their bathtubs if you need it for toilets and those types of things."

Anyone who suspects price gouging during this declared state of emergency should report it to the Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

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 other civil penalties that may apply.

State law also 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.

Specifically, Section 501.160 Florida Statute states that 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 costs or market trends.

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