$9 for a $4 case of water: Florida hit by price gouging ahead of Hurricane Dorian

By Aimee Picchi

/ MoneyWatch

Hurricane Dorian stalls off Florida coast

As Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida, local residents are having to cope with another type of storm surge: Price gouging. The state's attorney general has received more than 2,400 reports of price gouging, which occurs when merchants try to cash in by boosting prices of goods ahead of a natural disaster.

One gas station was selling 24-packs of Nestle's Pure Life water for $9, more than twice its normal retail cost, and other stations hiked prices at the pump by $1 more than advertised price.

"We are starting to hear about hotel pricing as evacuation orders come down," Kylie Mason, press secretary for Florida AG Ashley Moody, added in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.

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While some may argue that rising prices merely reflect the difficulty of transporting goods during a storm, many states — including Florida — prohibit retailers from jacking up the cost of essentials like water and gas during a state of emergency. Florida's governor declared a state of emergency on Aug. 28 in anticipation of Hurricane Dorian, which has caused at least 5 deaths on the Abaco Islands.

Some Florida coastal residents refuse to leave homes ahead of Hurricane Dorian

Florida law bars retailers from boosting prices on "essential commodities" as well as dwelling units and self-storage facilities during a state of emergency, unless the retailer can justify the higher price because of market trends — for instance, if gas prices spiked nationally. Essential commodities include food, water and gas.

The Florida AG's office said it compares the price charged during the state of emergency to the average price for the 30 previous days. If there's a "gross disparity" between the two prices, the state considers that gouging. Businesses engaging in price gouging can face a fine of $1,000 per violation.

Suspected cases of price gouging in Florida can be reported to the state's dedicated hotline: (866) 9NO-SCAM. The state has also created an app for reporting price gouging called NO SCAM.

First published on September 3, 2019 / 4:30 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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