CHARLESTON – As West Virginia begins the process of digging out from severe flooding that has left nearly two dozen residents dead, the state Attorney General’s office is receiving complaints of price gouging by businesses allegedly trying to take advantage of people in their time of need.
The office also has warned residents to be on guard for sham charity requests.
“We have received several reports, but the overwhelming majority of West Virginia businesses have been incredibly generous during this time,” said Curtis Johnson, spokesman for Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office. “While under the law we cannot confirm or deny a particular investigation, we review every complaint closely and vigorously enforce the state's consumer protection laws whenever evidence reveals there has been a violation.”
While Johnson couldn’t provide specific information, several social media postings over the weekend referenced alleged price gouging situations. Those included everything from bottled water to hotel rooms.
The flooding that began June 23 left most of West Virginia under a State of Emergency. When Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made that declaration, the state’s price gouging laws went into effect. Those laws specifically prohibit any person, business or contractor from inflating the price of select consumer items by more than 10 percent of what it sold for 10 days prior to the declaration.
The law takes effect during any state of emergency or state of preparedness, as issued by the governor. Price gouging laws remain in effect until the declaration is lifted or 30 days, whichever is longer, subject to limited exceptions.
“West Virginians always come together in times of emergency and I expect businesses and residents alike to help – not take advantage – of one another,” Morrisey said in a press release. “The scope of this week’s disaster is breathtaking. I call upon all West Virginians to pull together and take care of one another.”
Morrisey said he urges any consumer who believes he or she may have been charged prices that increased dramatically after the state of emergency declaration to file a complaint with his office. Those with a receipt should attach a copy to their complaint.
If you have a question about price gouging laws or believe you have a complaint, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808 or file a report online at www.wvago.gov.
The State of Emergency covers all counties except the state's Northern and Eastern panhandles.
Over the weekend, Morrisey’s office collected relief supplies at the state Capitol. The office worked in conjunction with the state Auditor’s Office, Capitol Police and the George Washington High School football team. The supplies are being transported to the affected areas by the American Red Cross.