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As people in southeastern Texas face the devastating floodwater left by Hurricane Harvey, they are also grappling with predatory businesses that are selling basic necessities at astronomical prices. As of last week, the state attorney general's office had received 684 consumer complaints, a majority of which involved price-gouging of bottled water, fuel, groceries and other necessities.
“Anytime catastrophic storms hit Texas, we witness the courage of our first responders and the generosity of neighbors coming together to help their fellow Texas,” Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement. “Unfortunately, in the wake of the damage from storms and flooding, we also see bad actors taking advantage of victims and their circumstances.”
In a few cases, people reported having to pay $3.50 a gallon for gas in Houston, about a $1.30 more than the average gas price in the area, said Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for Paxton’s office. A Houston convenience store charged $20 a gallon, she said. It’s unclear if the jacked-up rates were the result of price-gouging or if the shutdown of refinery operations in the wake of Harvey was a factor, but the attorney general’s office is investigating.
Meanwhile, some businesses sold water bottles for $8.50 each and cases for $99, Lovvorn said.
“These are things you can’t do in Texas,” Paxton told CNBC. “There are significant penalties if you price-gouge in a crisis like this.”
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