A natural disaster can turn your entire life upside down. You’re left scrambling for resources and looking for ways to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, natural disasters often bring out crafty individuals and businesses looking to make a quick buck. Scammers were waiting for money-making opportunities during Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and now Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The problem has gotten so bad that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had to intervene, warning scammers he would find them and crack down on price gouging.
Texas law bans businesses from overcharging for basic goods during a disaster. The penalty for a violation is up to $20,000 per incident. However, Paxton told ABC News the penalty would be raised as high as $250,000 if the victim is 65 or older. Here are eight businesses accused of stealing dollars from Hurricane Harvey victims.
1. Best Buy
Gaining access to clean water can be challenging during a natural disaster. Instead of making it easier for Texans to acquire drinkable water, one Best Buy store sought to make a profit by selling expensive cases of water to those in need. The Grit Post reported a Texas Best Buy was selling bottled water for as much as $42.96 per pack. Once the higher-ups at Best Buy caught wind of the story, however, the store issued an apology.
Next: Sleeping here will cost you.
2. Best Western
If you don’t have friends or family you can stay with during a crisis, your next best option is a usually hotel. However, one hotel you probably wouldn’t want to stay at is this Best Western Plus in Robstown, Texas. The hotel was accused of charging nearly triple its usual rate. Upon hearing about the opportunistic pricing, Best Western severed ties with the franchise. In addition, 40 customers received refunds.
Next: You might not want to stop here.
Instead of stopping here for wings, you might want to keep on walking. A few customers were quite hungry after wrestling with the elements, so they stopped by a local Texas Wingstop to grab a bite to eat. After purchasing their meal, they were charged an additional fee. Some customers were so troubled by the price gouging that they complained on the company’s Facebook page. Patrons said the extra charge appeared on their receipt as a “convenience fee.”
Next: Price gouging or misunderstanding?
4. Home Depot
A Clear Lake Shores, Texas, Home Depot was accused of jumping on the overpriced water bandwagon. A Home Depot customer took a photo of a 24-pack of Dasani water being sold for $42.72. Upon further investigation, Tampa Bay’s 10 News discovered the picture was indeed real. After being contacted about the water, Home Depot representative Matt Harriman claimed the sign was an error and that the store is now selling individual bottles of Dasani for 17 cents.
Harriman explained individual bottles of Dasani are sold at the store for $1.78 a bottle. Therefore, a 24-pack would be $42.72. Considering the fact that Texas is in the middle of one of the worst natural disasters it has seen in years, the original price is still troubling.
Next: The jury is still out.
5. RaceWay (still under investigation)
One woman said she was charged almost $65 for two cases of beer at a local RaceWay convenience store. The store was quick to defend itself, claiming in a statement sent to ABC News that the charge was a clerical error. The representative also said the store in question is operated by an independent RaceWay contractor. They said the store gave the customer a full refund.
Next: The high cost of gas
6. Gas stations
Many gas stations are running out of fuel or are in short supply in parts of Texas. Consequently, some of these stations are taking advantage of the situation by significantly raising the price. The Texas attorney general said he has received complaints of one gas station in Houston charging customers a whopping $20 per gallon to fill their cars.
Paxton told Fox Business his office will make sure not to prosecute gas stations that only increase prices by 5 or 10 cents a gallon. Instead, he’s primarily looking at businesses that hike prices by 10% or more.
Next: Paying dearly to eat
Food also tends to be in short supply during a disaster like Harvey. Residents are fighting to grab staples, such as water, bread, and other items that are necessary for toughing out the storm. Consequently, some supermarkets have also been accused of increasing prices. Paxton told Fox Business his office received complaints of some supermarkets charging up to five times the regular price for items, such as a loaf of bread.
Next: Suddenly everyone’s an entrepreneur.
8. Street vendors
A crisis seems to be prime time for fly-by-night entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, some people have decided to use Hurricane Harvey as their opportunity to go into business. Not surprisingly, bottled water has been the item of choice to sell on the streets. There have been reports of residents reselling bottles of water at ridiculous prices. One vendor, who was selling water that had been marked up by 500%, was caught on camera and chided by a Texas resident, who told the vendor he “should be ashamed of himself.”
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