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Hotel, Gas Stations Accused Of Price-Gouging Hurricane Harvey Victims

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By definition, price gouging is the act of increasing the prices of goods, services, or commodities to a level much higher than is considered reasonable or fair. It’s also just a shady thing to do, especially when it involves people already reeling from a natural disaster. To that end, Texas is suing three businesses for allegedly price gouging consumers before and after Hurricane Harvey.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today filed lawsuits against three companies, accusing them of unfairly rising the price of fuel, shelter, and other essentials as a result of the recent hurricane.

Under Texas law, businesses are prohibited from charging exorbitant prices for necessities such as drinking water, food, clothing, and fuel during a declared disaster.

“It’s unconscionable that any business would take advantage of Texans at their most vulnerable – those who are displaced from their homes, have limited resources, and are in desperate need of fuel, shelter and the basic necessities of life,” AG Paxton said.

Yet, according to his office, these such businesses exist, and three were allegedly hard at work re-victimizing Harvey’s victims.

Paxton’s office filed separate lawsuits today against Robstown Enterprises, Bains Brothers, and Encinal Fuel Stop for allegedly price gouging consumers during or after Harvey.

Costly Lodging

Best Western-franchisee Robstown Enterprises — doing business as Best Western Plus Tropic — allegedly charged three times the normal room rate the weekend Harvey hit the area.

KXAN reports that a crew from the station stayed at the hotel chain prior to the storm, finding that their quoted price was significantly lower than what they were charged when they checked out.

The station shared a copy of the invoice with the AG’s office and the hotel later refunded 40 customers. However, the AG’s office notes that Best Western severed ties with the franchise.

Expensive Fuel

In the case of Bains Brothers, the owner of two Texaco gas stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the AG claims the companies increased the price of regular unleaded fuel to $6.99 per gallon after the hurricane hit.

This price was charged on Aug. 31 despite the fact that the gas stations actually advertised the cost of fuel ranging between $3 and $4 per gallon, according to the AG’s office.

The AG’s office became aware of the issue when a customer complained that he had begun filling his tank only to discover that 12 gallons of fuel cost $85. At the time, the customer claims, the gas station advertised the fuel as costing $4.29/gallon.

Fuel prices at the Chevron-branded Encinal Fuel Stop were even more expensive, the AG’s office claims.

On Aug. 31, the company allegedly charged $8.99 and $9.99 per gallon for regular unleaded fuel.

According to the AG’s office, if found guilty of price gouging, businesses can receive a civil penalty of up to $20,000 for each violation. Businesses also face an additional fine of up to $250,000 for incidents that involved citizens over the age of 65.

More To Come

While today’s lawsuits mark the AG’s first since Harvey, the agency says it has received 3,321 complaints of price gouging following the storm.

Individuals who believe they have been scammed or the victim of price gouging are urged to report the incidents to the AG’s consumer protection hotline at (800)621-0508, via email at consumeremergency@oag.texas.gov, or online.

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