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Florence triggers price gouging protections

As Virginia prepares for Hurricane Florence, Gov. Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency has triggered Virginia’s anti-price gouging statutes, according to a Tuesday press release from the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Consumer Protection Section.

Officials noted in the release that the statutes are designed to protect consumers from paying exorbitant prices for necessities during an emergency.

Enacted in 2004, Virginia’s Anti-Price Gouging Act prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the 30-day period following a declared state of emergency, the release cited. It continued by stating that items and services covered by these protections include but are not limited to water, ice, food, generators, batteries, home repair materials and services and tree removal services.

A price is considered “unconscionable” if the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar item or services during the 10 days prior to the state of emergency, officials said.

“First and foremost, I encourage all Virginians to take the necessary steps in preparation for this dangerous storm,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said in the release. “I would also encourage everyone to 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. 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.”

Violations of Virginia’s Anti-Price Gouging Act are enforceable by the Office of the Attorney General through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, officials cited in the release. They added that complaints should be reported for investigation to the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Section, with the exception of claims related to gasoline and motor fuel prices, which are handled by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The release concluded by noting that if a consumer suspects they are a victim of price gouging, they can call the Consumer Protection Hotline and download a complaint form from the Attorney General’s website and submit it in person, by mail, by fax or by sending a PDF to the following email address: consumer@oag.state.va.us. A separate complaint form is available for price gouging involving motor fuels. Consumers are encouraged to keep any relevant documentation and submit copies with their complaint.