As of Wednesday afternoon, the North Carolina Attorney General's office reported that there had already been 650 complaints about price gouging in areas of the state affected by Hurricane Florence.
Price gouging is defined as excessive pricing in the wake of a disaster and emergency declaration, said Ben David, district attorney for New Hanover and Pender counties.
"It will remain in place for 45 days since the Sept. 7 declaration, so we're still in that time period," David said. "Commodities like water and gas, those are easy to set the market for it and see when people are gouging. It's very hard with services, particularly tree removal, repair, things like that, because there's such variability from one person's yard to the next."
David had three recommendations for those who want to avoid gouging:
No. 1: Shop around. "Talk to neighbors who have already hired folks and see who's good and who's not," David said. Don't fall into the trap of thinking one company or another will be the last one available, he said.
"They're like buses; one leaves, another one will come," David said.
No. 2: Get it in writing. "It will be a lot easier to enforce and it will be legally binding if you get something in writing," he said.
No. 3: Don't pay up front. "A lot of people become victims because they give the money to folks who are from wherever and then they are gone. That's obviously a crime when that happens. That's obtaining property by false pretenses, and that's a felony. My office has been prosecuting these cases for years," David said.
Gouging can result in $500 fines for each individual violation. Obtaining property by false pretenses at a value of over $100,000 results in prison time.
"We have seen in the wake of these storms, and this is not our first rodeo, where people have come in and been predatory with pricing and with their conduct because these storms bring out the best and worst of any community," David said.
Gouging should be reported to the office of N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM by phone or by completing an online form.
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