Lifestyle - September 15, 2017

Hurricane Irma spurs more than 10,000 price-gouging complaints on gas, water, ice

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]urricane, More than 10,000 price gouging complaints connected to Hurricane Irma have poured into the state since Labor Day, according to the Florida Attorney General’s office.

Customers complained retailers have jacked up prices for gas, water, ice and batteries as supplies ran thin and residents raced to stock up their homes or recover.

Complaints came in before and after the hurricane as stores when gas stations ran out of essential supplies.

Lynda Carpenter of Orlando filed a complaint on Sept. 9 saying a Sunoco gas station near Edgewater Drive and North Orange Blossom Trail had raised prices for gas, water and ice.

“They wanted $20 for a bag of ice and water was $20 a case,” Carpenter told the Orlando Sentinel.

“I turned around and went somewhere else because I couldn’t afford to pay that.”

Gas, she said, was selling for $2.99 a gallon, 30 cents above the local average.

The Sunoco station did not answer phone calls Friday morning.

Carpenter said she hasn’t noticed any price-gouging since the storm since she has been stuck at home without power.

Price gouging laws in Florida state retailers and hotels can’t raise prices during a state of emergency to increase profit margins.

Business owners are allowed to raise prices if wholesale costs increase, as is often the case with gasoline.

It also wouldn’t apply to the handful of gas stations in the tourist areas and near Orlando International Airport that consistently charge $5 or $6 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline.

As of Friday morning 22 percent of stations in the state still didn’t have gasoline, according to

Many complaints came against convenience stores, which reportedly increased the prices for cases of water 300 to 500 percent.

On complaint from a Mount Dora resident said a local gas station sold a 24 pack of water for $15, but the normal price is $3.99 a case.

Another complaint said a convenience store owner offered to sell a customer D batteries, commonly used for flashlights, for $5 each.

“Each complaint is carefully reviewed for violations of (price gouging laws) and when appropriate assigned to a member of our Consumer Protection Division for further review and investigation,” said an email from Kylie Mason, a spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office.

For comparison, Hurricane Matthew last year only spurred about 2,700 complaints, but that storm only impacted a fraction of the state compared to Irma’s track up the entire Florida peninsula.

Bondi’s office did file suit against hotels in Tampa, Lakeland and Clearwater after Hurricane Matthew, claiming that those establishments dramatically increased prices as people were looking for shelter from the storm.

The local Better Business Bureau chapter is also warning customers to watch out for return fraud after the hurricane, said president and CEO Holly Salmons.

“Last year with Hurricane Matthew we had complaints from some consumers that said stores changed their return policies for hurricane supplies,” Salmons said.

“The state of Florida haS a statute that basically says stores should uphold their own return policy and once the purchase is made, the terms and conditions can’t change.”

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