As Hurricane Rita approached, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a stern warning to all Texas businesses engaged in the sale of bottled water, gasoline, food, lodging, building materials, rental vehicles and other essential goods and services.
"I have instructed my investigators and attorneys to take quick legal action if we find businesses deliberately gouging consumers in advance of this storm and in its aftermath," said Attorney General Abbott. "We will aggressively urge the courts to impose harsh penalties against anyone who would profit off the backs of those already suffering."
The Attorney Generals Office has received complaints, including allegations of rental car companies charging up to $137 per day for mid-size cars and grocers charging $35 for a 12-pack of bottled water. These complaints are under investigation.
Hurricane Rita accelerated to Category 5 status Wednesday afternoon in the Gulf, with sustained winds of 165 mph. The massive storm is expected to make landfall along the Gulf Coast late Friday or early Saturday.
With the mandatory evacuation of all coastal counties ordered by authorities Wednesday and others along the Gulf Coast fleeing in advance of this storm, Attorney General Abbotts teams of field investigators will be closely monitoring unseemly business practices and consumer complaints about price-gouging.
Businesses that gouge could face civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which encompasses price-gouging during a declared disaster such as this one.
Consumers who experience what they believe to be price-gouging for essential goods or services should call the Attorney Generals complaint hotline at (800) 252-8011 or file complaints online at the Attorney Generals Web site: www.oag.state.tx.us.