During this devastating week, hopeful stories about heroic actions and kind gestures have eased this tragedy, at least somewhat. Bakers trapped at work spent the night baking thousands of loaves of bread to donate to shelters. The owner of a furniture store opened his doors so hundreds of displaced people could stay. Residents have ventured out of their own safe homes to make daring rescues of trapped residents, even risking their lives to save animals caught in the floods. Texans outside of Houston have donated their money and supplies. And these are just the ones we’ve heard about, and in addition to the hundreds of medical, rescue and relief workers whose jobs it is to be heroes.
But, Harvey has not brought out the best in everyone. While some people have viewed Harvey as an opportunity to help our neighbors, others have looked for ways to cash in.
Unscrupulous gas stations are charging up to $20 per gallon. Ruthless hotels have increased room rates by more than 200 percent. Greedy stores are peddling cases of bottled water for $99. Even Best Buy got in on the action, selling a case of water for $42.96.
Price gouging is not just despicable. It’s illegal.
The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act (DTPA) prohibits businesses from taking advantage of a disaster by demanding exorbitant prices for fuel, food, medicine and other necessities.
If a clean conscience can’t get gougers to stop, maybe the threat of fines and lawsuits will.
What Should You Do if You Are Price Gouged?
Price gouging works because you don’t have a choice. You’d pay any price during a life or death situation. If you must pay hundreds of dollars to gas up and get out, you’ll do it.
However, if you were put in that unconscionable position, you do have important legal recourse.
First, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General of Texas here. Make sure include the accurate name and address of the business that gouged you.
You can also file a lawsuit against the gouger under the DTPA. First, you need to send a certified letter demanding a refund of the excessive price. If the gouger fails to pay within 60 days, you can file the lawsuit.
Remedies may include
- Economic damages
- Mental anguish
- An injunction to stop gouging
- Revocation of the gouger’s business license
If the seller “knowingly” overcharged, you may be entitled to three times your economic damages. You may also be awarded treble damages for mental anguish if the seller “intentionally” overcharged, which businesses clearly did in many of these Harvey claims.
By taking action, you not only assert your rights but also can help other victims.