As the winter freeze in Texas continues to unfold, many Texans are complaining about extremely high prices for shelter, safe drinking water and plumbers services to fix broken pipes. There is a lot to worry about with this crisis and absurd prices for basic necessities shouldn't be one of them.
What is price gouging?
According to Texas law, price gouging is:
Selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials, construction tools, or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price;
Demanding an exorbitant or excessive price in connection with the sale or lease of fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials, construction tools, or another necessity.
Price gouging protections go into effect when the Governor or President declares a disaster. The Office of the Attorney General has the authority to prosecute any business that seeks to take advantage of a disaster by excessively increasing their prices.
How to spot price gouging
Extraordinarily high prices: High prices do not always mean that price gouging is occurring as businesses have the ability to determine the price for their product. But businesses are NOT allowed to raise the price of products to “exorbitant” or “excessive” prices to take advantage of a crisis.
Err on the side of caution: If you aren’t sure whether a product is priced too high, it’s better to report problematic items to the company and the Attorney General.
What should I do if I see price gouging?
Talk directly to the business: Businesses may be willing to lower the price if you voice your concern. Search for a customer service hotline or any available number and try to speak to a real person. If they are unable to address your concern, speaking to them will help strengthen your report to the Attorney General.
Report potential price gouging incidents to the Texas Attorney General.
How to report price gouging to the Attorney General
You should take note of:
The name of the store/vendor where you saw the item and their address.
Product details, including, but not limited to, the product type, brand, size, and price
The date, time, and location you saw the product.
You can improve the investigation by providing a picture of the item.
How you may have attempted to resolve the dispute, including the names of people you spoke with
You can report to the Attorney General in three ways
Fill out the online form here
The Office of the Harris County Attorney is also collecting price gouging reports in the county. In addition to reporting to the Attorney General, you should also submit your claim here.
What will happen with my price gouging report?
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division is responsible for investigating price gouging reports. Violators may be responsible for reimbursing the consumer and may be liable for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation with additional penalties if the violation affects people 65 or older.
There are few federal protections against price gouging. We must pass comprehensive federal price gouging legislation that goes beyond preventing hoarding, as was prohibited in March by a presidential order. All consumer complaints are public record and reporting these incidents can help build public pressure to create more protections for consumers at the federal level.
If you are without safe shelter, water or any other necessity and resources are unaffordable or unavailable, you should call 211, 311 or visit https://tdem.texas.gov/warming-centers/ to be connected to appropriate services.