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Attorney general warns of scams, price gouging

Posted September 4, 2008

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— The North Carolina attorney general issued a pre-storm warning Thursday to consumers to beware of repair scams and price gouging in the aftermath of Hanna, which is expected to hit the state sometime late Friday or early Saturday.

“We’re sending out a clear signal to price gougers that they’d better not try to use this storm as an excuse to make an unfair profit at consumers’ expense,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said.

State law gives the attorney general power to investigate potential price gouging in states of emergency and to seek refunds for consumers who paid too much. The courts may also impose civil penalties against price gougers of up to $5,000 for each violation.

Gov, Mike Easley declared the emergency Thursday.

Cooper admits the law serves as more of a deterrent than a readily used prosecutorial tool.

"During the last disaster, we got very little, if any complaints, about price gouging," he said.

Should Hanna, or any other tropical system, cause damage in North Carolina, Cooper also urges consumers to be wary of repair crews who show up uninvited. He advises consumers to get a written estimate for work and to never pay up front. (Read other advice from the attorney general.)

"These scammers sometimes crawl out from under rocks, and they take advantage of people in a number of ways," Cooper said. "Don't rush into something that could end up costing you in the end."

Cooper says the vast majority of contractors, tree removal companies and auto repair shops are legitimate, but scams are a reality. Scams can be reported to the Attorney General's Office by calling toll-free to 877-5-NO-SCAM.

16 Comments

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  • TheAdmiral Sep 5, 2008

    Here's how you fix the price problem.

    You buy a 2X4 for $50. You take that 2X4 and beat the pucky out of the retailer who is doing the illegal pricing.

    Then you ask for your refund of $43.

  • baileysmom3 Sep 5, 2008

    Charging $5 for a gallon of water is rediculous!! I am outraged by the price gauging at some conveince stores! Anyways, I refuse to pay when this happens, and I go to my nearest grocery vender who sells things at more reasonable rates. When the price is too high, I Just dont BUY.

  • yacs Sep 5, 2008

    There's actually a benefit to letting supply and demand regulate the market -- it prevents hoarding. Further to Steve's example, if the gubmint told him he couldn't charge more than $3 per bag, then the first person in line could buy every bag Steve has, even if that person doesn't necessarily need it. A higher price would cause that person to rethink their needs, and probably leave more ice for other consumers.

    The only issue I have with price gougers is when they take advantage of the elderly or the handicapped.

  • Glass Half Full Sep 5, 2008

    The price of gasoline in Fayetteville at stations on the north side of town rose 12 cents a gallon between 6pm yesterday and 7:30 am today while the price of gasoline in Raleigh remains the same as it was yesterday. Price Gouging?

  • colliedave Sep 4, 2008

    What consitutes prices gouging and what consitutes failure to prepare for a disaster?

  • Steve Crisp Sep 4, 2008

    "In your book, that's obviously a simple supply and demand transaction"

    No, that would be fraud and not the basis for a valid contract. Fraud is already covered under various criminal statutes and is completely independent of the money involved in the transaction. It would have been fraud if they had charged five dollars or 50 thousand dollars since the money was gained under false pretenses.

    Learn the difference between fraud and so-called gouging. The AG is not doing so, so someone has to.

  • DukeMoney Sep 4, 2008

    Steve Crisp, following Fran a group of con artists convinced a 92 year old blind Raleigh man that a small pine tree leaning on his house was actually a large tree that was about to slice through his home. The story was featured in the N&O. They got him to write a check for $22K to get it off, telling him a crane was required. In your book, that's obviously a simple supply and demand transaction, unless it happens to your grandaddy, in which case, you'll be on here whining about the gummint not doing its job. Oh yeah, the crew that did that supply and demand transaction pled guilty, but that was just the evil gummint (SBI and DA Colon Willoughby) pressuring honest businessmen, I guess. Get over yourself.

  • pbjbeach Sep 4, 2008

    DOES THE ATTORNEY'S GEERALS OFFICE HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PROTECTING THE TAXPAYERS OF NORTH CAROLINA FROM BEING RIPPED OFF BY THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATIONS WITH REGARDS TO FALSE CLAIMS THAT HAVE BEEN FILED BY A CONTRACTOR DOING CONTRACT WORK FOR THE STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA AN WHY DIDN'T THE ATTORNEY' GENERALS OFFICE MAKE THIS PARTICULAR CONTRACTOR BONDING COMPANY PAY FOR THIS BAD NON SPECEFICIATION WORK DONE ON A HIGHWAY CONTRACT

  • homebrewer Sep 4, 2008

    From my economics 101 class I remember market demand dictates what something is worth. I'd like to see the fine line between gouging and supply & demand explained. Personally I think 300k for a singlewide mobile home a mile from the coast is price gouging but I dont see the NC Attorney general going after those folks.

  • Steve Crisp Sep 4, 2008

    Further, and regarding tree removal, and especially repairs...

    One of the primary complaints regarding gouging in NOT so much that prices are high, but that the homeowner was taken advantage of. There is some sort of feeling that if a roofer comes in and charges $20,000 to replace a roof when it should only cost $5,000, that the homeowner was taken advantage of since the $20 price is excessive and the homeowner had no way of knowing.

    When if someone owns a home, they should know what it costs to replace roof. Or take down a tree. Or perform any other repair. And if that homeowner is willing to pay $20 K to get their roof fixed NOW, then who is government to say that they can not voluntarily enter into a contract for someone to do so at that price?

    In many instances, anti-gouging laws are really nothing more than protecting stupid people from their own stupidity and that is not government's job.

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