Reports: Out-of-state businesses price gouging flood victims

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Texas Assistant Attorney General for the Houston Consumer Protection Division Rick Berlin gives tips for those repairing flooded homes. (KTRK)

For those impacted by the historic flooding, cleanup can be a major project requiring professional help. Now, the head of the Attorney General's Consumer Protecting Division in Houston is warning victims of a different kind of storm chaser, out to take advantage of those recovering from the flooding.

"I would like to say that I'm surprised but unfortunately it happens every time," said Rick Berlin, Assistant Attorney General of the Consumer Protection Division in Houston.

His office has been cleaning up a different mess -- the fallout of reports of so-called "storm chasers" chasing after flooding victims while they're down and out and likely without a dry place to stay or way to get around.

"Unfortunately, after every disaster, people come in from out of town to take advantage of the people of Houston and the people of Texas," Berlin said.
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Texas Assistant Attorney General for the Houston Consumer Protection Division Rick Berlin gives tips for those repairing flooded homes.

Over the past two weeks, Berlin's office fielded about a dozen calls from flood victims reporting storm chaser price gouging. As defined by Texas state law, price gouging occurs when someone demands an excessive price for food, fuel, medicine and other necessities after the state's governor makes a disaster declaration.

Food, fuel and medicine may be easy to identify, but as for "necessities," Berlin said "...things like transportation to and from your job or home and if your home has been damaged, even lodging at a hotel so you have some place to stay while it's repaired -- and those repairs would also be covered."

If you're wondering whether you've been price gouged, Berlin said it varies by the good or service but a good rule of thumb is a "necessity" priced 10 percent higher than what would be typically charged.

"The best way to avoid being taken advantage of fly-by-night people from out of state is to try and find out as much as you can about what's going on," Berlin said.

Among other guidelines, Berlin recommends checking the internet and calling around to get an average rate for a good or service, asking for local references with contractors, getting deals in writing--nothing verbal.

Berlin's best piece of advice? Avoid companies and other individuals that show up on your doorstep offering their services, unsolicited.

"That way you can protect yourself from somebody that's here one day and gone the next," Berlin said.

If you think you are a victim of price gouging, report it to the Texas Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.

You can also report complaints so-called storm chasers to the Better Business Bureau.

See where other complaints have been registered in your neighborhood with the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker.

Berlin says his office received similar report of price gouging by so-called storm chasers after 2008's Hurricane Ike and in many cases, was able to recover money for storm victims. Those found guilty of price gouging can be fined up to $20,000 per violation.

Related Topics:
businesshouston floodflash floodingHouston
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