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Attorney General Abbott warns against price gouging in the wake of Hurricane Humberto

Governor's disaster declaration triggers AG's price-gouging authority

From the Office of Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas

September 19, 2007

Government - Attorney General Greg Abbott picture BEAUMONT – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Sept. 14 warned Gulf Coast residents to be wary of price gouging, charity scams and other fraudulent attempts to bilk consumers in the aftermath of Hurricane Humberto.

Gov. Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration for Jefferson, Orange and Galveston counties yesterday after the storm produced heavy rain and wind damage in the region. Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the Attorney General has authority to protect consumers from exorbitant prices during or after official disaster declarations for necessities, including fuel, food, lodging, medicines, repair work and other basic requirements.

"Once the governor has declared a disaster, raising the price of water, fuel, medical supplies or other basic necessities is illegal in disaster areas," said Attorney General Abbott. "Investigators with the Office of the Attorney General will closely monitor affected areas and will take swift legal action against price-gougers, unscrupulous contractors and any others who unlawfully profiteer from the disaster. Texans who believe they have knowledge about unlawful activity should contact the Office of Attorney General to report that information."

Attorney General Abbott urged homeowners and businesses to exercise caution when seeking contractors to help with repairs or before making charitable donations. The Office of the Attorney General offers the following consumer tips:

Home repairs. Be wary of contractors who show up unexpectedly and offer roofing, drywall and other major repairs, particularly those who are not from the local community and low-ball their offer saying that they have material left over from a previous job and insist on an advance cash payment.

Obtain bids in writing from several contractors first and review each one carefully. Ask contractors if they are covered through insurance or a bond, particularly when considering them for a large project. Check with the city to make sure electricians and plumbers have the necessary license and have obtained the required permits.

Get all terms in writing and do not sign a contract without a full understanding of its contents. Do not sign a contract that has spaces left blank. Pay the contractor only as the work progresses, and do not sign a completion certificate until all repairs are done properly. If the work is substantial, consider having an independent inspector look it over before settling the bill with the contractor.

Before hiring a contractor, contact the Better Business Bureau and the Office of the Attorney General to determine whether consumers have filed complaints against the contractor in the past.

Charity scams. Be wary of telemarketers, solicitations by mail, or those who show up unexpectedly urging an immediate donation to an unfamiliar charity which supposedly will aid victims of the disaster. A legitimate charity will offer detailed information in writing about how donated money will be used and will provide a reasonable timeframe within which the donor can make an informed decision.

Be particularly suspicious of solicitors who are long on emotion but short on detail about how donations will be put to use. Always make the donation using a check or money order made out to the charity, and be wary of organizations with names that are very similar but not identical to those of a recognized charity.

Additional information to help consumers protect themselves against price gouging and other disaster-related scams is available on the Attorney General's Web site at, or by calling (800) 252-8011. Information is available in English and Spanish.

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