RALEIGH, N.C. — With gas prices climbing, some buyers may no longer trust their sellers.
"That just seems like they're taking advantage of consumers, and there should be consequences," gas customer Steve Vedell said Thursday, when gas prices reached $4 a gallon for unleaded fuel in some parts of North Carolina.
Another gas customer, Rachel Harper, added: "It's not right that they are allowed to do that and no one is stepping in to stop it."
The N.C. Attorney General's Office said it has heard the pain over the gas price hikes from hundreds of callers over the past several days.
"I understand it's frustrating," Attorney General Roy Cooper said Thursday. "It is wrong to try and make a profit off of a natural disaster."
It may be wrong, Cooper said, but he concedes that the rapid gas price hikes were probably not illegal.
"There are no laws that cover price gouging that are in effect right now," he said.
For gouging laws to go into effect, Cooper said, the governor must make an official declaration of a disaster, like the governor does when hurricanes hit North Carolina. That's not the case with Hurricane Katrina, he said.
North Carolina also can enforce price-fixing laws if a group of businesses conspire together to unfairly inflate prices. But that's hard to prove, especially since retailers can argue the market is highly unstable because of the hurricane and concerns over the gas supply, Cooper said.
Cooper admitted this puts the burden back on consumers.
"They ought to use the power of their purse, not only now but in the future to shame those retailers who would take an unfair advantage," Cooper said.
He added his office still wants to hear reports of potential gouging, and his staff would investigate those reports.
He also said he plans to reevaluate the current law in hopes of making it more effective in the future.