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Is it against the law to raise prices when there’s a state of emergency?

Si Cantwell
StarNews
Bottled water

At 2:40 p.m. Aug. 25, 2011, the Kmart at 815 S. College Road had a large stack of bottled water on pallets. (StarNews photo by Si Cantwell)

A reader wrote in that she was shopping at a Kmart in August 2011 as Hurricane Irene approached Southeastern North Carolina and noticed a 24-bottle case of water selling for $5.99. She said the same water usually sold for $2.99 to $3.99 a case and wondered if it was legal to raise prices during a state of emergency, such as a hurricane.

The answer:

At 2:40 p.m. Aug. 25, 2011, the Kmart at 815 S. College Road, Wilmington [Map this], had a large stack of bottled water on pallets near its entrance selling for $2.99 for 24 bottles of 16.9 ounces (regularly $3.99, a sign said).

The store manager pointed out the price over the phone but said she could not comment on the record.

The N.C. attorney general, Roy Cooper, said in a press release that North Carolina’s price-gouging law took effect after a state of emergency was declared for Hurricane Irene.

“We’re warning price gougers that you can’t use a crisis as an excuse to make an unfair profit off of consumers,” he said in the release.

Price gouging – or charging too much in times of crisis – is against North Carolina law when a disaster, an emergency or an abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services is declared by the governor, the release said.

The law applies to all levels of the supply chain, from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer.

Jennifer Canada, assistant public relations officer for the Attorney General’s Office, said that in the past, it had received complaints at times of hurricanes and other disasters. The complaints are generally for items like ice, salt, chain saws and chain saw blades.

Consumers who suspect price gouging can report instances to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM (1-877-566-7226) toll-free in North Carolina or by filling out a complaint form at www.ncdoj.gov.

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One Response to “ Is it against the law to raise prices when there’s a state of emergency?”

  1. On August 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm Mr. Frugal wrote:

    Yesterday @ 9pm gas at Carolina Beach was selling for $00.10 more than gas at Monkey Junction. Glad I got my gas at M.J. ;-)



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