Texas AG receives hundreds of complaints about price gouging

Texas residents are reporting hundreds of complaints about price gouging for basic goods like bottled water in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, according to the state’s attorney general.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) told The Hill the office has received at least 600 reports of price gouging, or intentionally spiking the price of goods, and frauds.

"As of our last tally this morning, we have 600 complaints pertaining to Hurricane Harvey (including scams, fraud, price gouging and charities), and that number is still rising," wrote spokeswoman Kayleigh Lovvorn in an email. "The majority of these complaints involve price gouging for bottled water, fuel, groceries and shelter."

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Lovvorn said those reports include several gas stations allegedly charging $3.50 a gallon, and in one extreme case $20 dollars for a gallon. Paxton's office is sending Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs) to the accused businesses.

"That last example was reported yesterday afternoon and a CID was prepared that same evening," Lovvorn explained.

In another case, Lovvorn said, involved a business allegedly selling cases of bottled water for $99. A photograph from one Houston resident that has been retweeted widely shows cases of bottled water being sold for $43 at an area Best Buy.

In a statement to The Hill, a Best Buy spokesman called the pricing “a big mistake” made by a few workers.

“This was a big mistake on the part of a few employees at one store on Friday. As a company we are focused on helping, not hurting affected people. We’re sorry and it won’t happen again,” the spokesman said.

“Not as an excuse but as an explanation, we don’t typically sell cases of water. The mistake was made when employees priced a case of water using the single-bottle price for each bottle in the case.”

Speaking on Fox News on Saturday, Paxton said that the consequences for price gouging are heavy.

"If you gouge somebody that's over 65, the cost is up to $250,000," Paxton said Saturday. "So there's some severe penalties, and we're looking for them, and we'll be coming after them."

Paxton's office is encouraging Texas residents to report price gouging and other scams by emailing consumeremergency@oag.texas.gov or by calling (800) 621-0508.

—Updated at 4:16 p.m.