What is price gouging and how can you report a problem? We’ll walk you through the steps.
RICHMOND – Until gas supplies return to normal, some companies may try and take advantage. We’ve already seen this happen in a number of areas, especially around Richmond. On Wednesday, multiple gas stations around the capital city raised prices to $5 and above for a gallon of gas. The problem for them is Virginia has a law to prevent price gouging.
Price gouging occurs when the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar goods or services during the 10 days immediately prior to the disaster.
Anti-price gouging statutes protect consumers – and their wallets – from paying steep prices for necessities during an emergency.
The protections began in the Commonwealth back in 2004, under Virginia’s Anti-Price Gouging Act. The act keeps a supplier in line for 30 days following a declared state of emergency. In that time, they may not charge “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services.”
So what does that mean in this situation? Basically, companies can’t charge $10 for a gallon of gas when two days prior, it was just over $2.
The act also protects the price of other items in a state of emergency, not just gasoline. Some additional goods include water, ice, food, generators, batteries, home repair materials and services and tree removal services.
“Unfortunately, bad actors could take advantage of this [situation] just to line their own pockets,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said. “Virginians should not have to worry about paying exorbitant prices for gas and other necessary goods during this time. I want to encourage any Virginian who believes they may have a price gouging complaint related to this incident to reach out to either my Consumer Protection Section or the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 500 complaints about price gouging due to the crisis flooded Herring’s office. That led to more than 150 investigative letters to businesses. Herring said investigations into the complaints have already revealed that many price increases occurred further up the supply chain. The gas station operators didn’t make the decision. Instead, distributors made that call.
If a Virginia consumer suspects victimization of price gouging, they can call the Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 552-9963. They may also download a complaint form from the Attorney General’s website. The can submit it in-person, by mail or by fax at (804) 225-4378.
Claims related to gasoline and motor fuel prices go through the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Consumers should keep any relevant documentation and submit copies with their complaint.
Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at email@example.com