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Emergency state activates ‘price-gouging’ law

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

If you’re stocking up on necessities in preparation for Hurricane Florence and notice a sudden inflation of prices, it might be time to call Virginia’s Consumer Protection Hotline.

Virginia passed an Anti-Price Gouging Act in 2004 that protects consumers from paying exorbitant prices for necessities whenever a State of Emergency is declared. Since Gov. Ralph Northam made such a declaration Saturday, consumers are protected by the law while preparing for Florence’s arrival and during cleanup and repairs after the storm passes.

Attorney General Mark Herring encourages all Virginians to prepare for the dangerous potential Florence presents. In the process, however, they should make note of what they’re paying.

“… Pay attention to the prices of necessary goods and services, both during and after the state of emergency, and be wary of prices that may be higher than normal,” Herring said. “Taking advantage of natural disasters and exploiting folks for financial gain is against the law and I will work to make sure that those who participate in price gouging are brought to justice.”

The law prohibits suppliers from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” for 30 days following the declaration of a State of Emergency. “Unconscionable” means the post-declaration price “grossly exceeds” the price charged during a 10-day period prior to the declaration.

Compared prices must be from same or similar items or services. The law applies, but is not limited to water, ice, food, generators, batteries, home repair materials, home repair services and tree removal services.

Complaints can be reported for investigation to 800-552-9963 or by mail to Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Consumer Protection Section, 202 N. Ninth St., Richmond, VA 23219. For mailed complaints, separate forms for motor fuels and other items or services are available for download at consumer@oag.state.va.us.

Copies of relevant documentation should accompany mailed complaint forms.

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