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‘Quick buck’: More than 500 cases of price gouging reported in Harris County

In a time of dire need during this winter blast, Texans have faced yet another threat from individuals who are spiking prices on basic necessities, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced during a press conference.

As of Friday, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee’s office has reported more than 500 cases of price gouging in the Houston area during the storm.

PAY IT FORWARD:  This Houston taco truck came to rescue to feed 800 families without power and water

“We’ve seen some anecdotal evidence of outrageous prices on necessary items like food and water—basically price gouging,” Hidalgo stated at a press conference. “Whether it’s spiking the price of basic necessities or whether it’s posting an Airbnb with power for $1000 a night, we can’t imagine something more cruel than to take advantage of people who are suffering right now in this disaster.”

It is ILLEGAL for a company to sell fuel, food, medicine, plumbing supplies, batteries, and disaster supplies at an excessive price during a state of emergency. Report price gouging here: https://t.co/A2VxsNy0kK pic.twitter.com/9lRvRECfP5

— Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (@ReadyHarris) February 19, 2021

In response to the increase in price gouging incidents, Hidalgo and Menefee announced a collaborative effort to crack down on businesses and individuals who are preying on Houstonians in this crisis.

“For those out there that think that they can make a quick buck out of our community’s pain, know that we will not tolerate any price gouging on our watch,” Hidalgo said.

Spiking prices for necessities is against the law in Texas. During a declared state of emergency, selling or leasing lodging, food, fuel, medicine, building materials, construction tools at excessive prices is illegal, according to the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act. Those who engage in these practices can face a fine up to $250,000, Hidalgo said.

“We have seen a good amount of complaints about water issues, like packs of water being sold at $25 or $30 a pack,” Menefee told Chron.”We’ve seen of course gas prices all the way from $2.50 a gallon to $3.50 a gallon. We’ve seen complaints about food at various locations.”

Menefee said that when he first launched the price gouging complaint portal, he saw early reports of lodging, but that has since tapered off.

“We initially saw complaints about hotels, but those have died down,” Menefee said. “When the website first went live, we saw early reports of hotels charging $500 or $700 a night. We have not seen a ton of lodging complaints though.”

If you experience price gouging:

1. Take photos

2. Hold on to your receipt

3. REPORT IT HERE: https://t.co/A2VxsNy0kK pic.twitter.com/DvhjkufgQx

— Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (@ReadyHarris) February 19, 2021

During this week’s historic winter storm, Houstonians grappled with sticker shock when they opened their Centerpoint Energy bills to this amount of “$202, 102.16.”  The company then stated it was technical mistake, tweeting to customers, “You do not owe this amount.”

We are aware of a recent technical issue caused by the power outage in Houston which led to the issuance of incorrect natural gas billing e-mails to some customers. If you have received an e-mail in the amount of $202,102.16, please disregard it. You do not owe this amount.

— CenterPoint Energy (@energyinsights) February 18, 2021

If you see a case of price gouging, report it immediately, Menefee said. File a price gouging complaint here.

Menefee warns that now Houstonians should be vigilant to price gouging with repair work in the coming weeks.

“We should also expect that in the coming days and weeks when people are trying to fix these issues–whether there are pipes freezing or busting through the drywall,” Menefee said. “The next thing to be on the lookout for is gouging among those who provide those contracting services–plumbing, drywall repair. We will continue to stay vigilant.”

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