SC Attorney General’s Office receives more than 100 price gouging complaints

Grand Strand

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office has received more than 100 complaints of price gouging. 

Robert Kittle, with the office, says in an email the SCAG’s office has received the following numbers of complaints during and after Hurricane Florence:

  • Gas- 39 complaints
  • Lodging- 33 complaints
  • Water and ice- 37 complaints
  • Food- 4 complaints
  • Non-gas or power-related commodities- 8 complaints
  • Other- 14 complaints. 

According to Kittle, there is a “layered approached to find cases that can sustain an action by this office.”

  • “First, complaints that are not price-gouging issues are eliminated. (Examples: refusal to return a deposit on a house rental, only selling premium gas because regular is out, commodities that have nothing to do with the emergency, etc.)”
  • “Second is a summary disposition, where there is an allegation of an inflated price but the price is negligible in context. (Examples: modest gasoline increases, only selling high octane gas at its normal higher price because regular is out, increased hotel expense on football weekends in the town of the game, etc.)”
  • “Third is a secondary review and disposition. While the price increase is of note or concern, the status does not rise to the extent to sustain a criminal prosecution, even if all allegations are true. (Examples: High hotel rates that are within the maximum rate posted on the inside door of hotel rooms, commodities sold at convenience stations that are traditionally sold at a premium cost like batteries, individual sales items sold in bulk at individual prices, etc.)”
  • “The fourth category is those issues that need further information. Many of these are simply incomplete reports that do not give us enough information to form an opinion. If the complainant refuses to return calls or cooperate, these may be dismissed if the complainant gives no further information, or failed to sustain evidence.”
  • “The final category is those cases that clearly warrant further investigation.  At this process, we do not make prosecutorial decisions, but refer those matters to the criminal side of the office.”

“Of the complaints we’ve received, 21 percent fall into the “insufficient information” category so we’re trying to get more information from the people who made the complaints. Many of the others have already been dismissed because they did not meet the standard for price gouging,” Kittle says. “For example, one complaint was for a gas price of $2.55 a gallon, which clearly is not price gouging based on typical prices at the time. Others fall into the other categories of not meeting the legal definition, such as a gas station being out of regular gas so someone had to buy premium at the premium price that’s always higher than regular.”

According to Kittle, businesses are not shut down because of complaints and local law enforcement officials investigate the complaints. After a complaint is investigated and found “likely to be price gouging based on our law, we file charges, which we would have to prove in court or reach a settlement agreement.”

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