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Florida’s attorney general slammed as “sickening” Wednesday evening more than 1,500 reported incidents of price gouging with Category 5 Hurricane Irma bearing down on the state, including delivery charges of $100 for a case of water.

“You’ve got vendors trying to trick people,” Pam Bondi said. “It’s sickening and disgusting, and we’re not going to have it.”

Retailer Amazon has suspended 12 third-party vendors associated with questionable fees, including a seemingly reasonably-priced case of water that came with a surprise delivery fee of $100, Bondi said.

“Come on,” Bondi said.


She said she has been in touch with Amazon among other firms and praised their cooperation in cracking down on abuses.

“It not just about money being taken from people, it’s about water and commodities our people need to survive,” Bondi said.

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The majority of complaints are coming from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, she said. Many deal with food, water and ice prices, and others with gasoline.

Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said he urged federal authorities to help ensure gas is available for people trying to evacuate.

“As a growing number of Floridians are being ordered to evacuate, we need to ensure that these evacuees have access to the gasoline they need to escape this approaching storm,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long. “I strongly urge FEMA to use all available resources and authorities to assist those evacuating this potentially catastrophic storm, including pre-positioning fuel supplies near and along evacuation routes so those running low on fuel can obtain an emergency supply to get them out of harm’s way.”

Some complaints have addressed high airfares, Bondi said.

Delta said it will cap fares from Florida and other affected regions at $399 for direct nonstop flights, and American was also capping fares on flights from five South Florida airports and waiving pet fees, Bondi said.

State law defines price gouging as a “gross disparity” between the current price and the average for the previous 30 days, but gives no strict statistical definition of how much is too much. Though there have been prosecuted cases or settlements after past storms, the broader effect frequently amounts to deterrence — making individual businesses think twice about jacking up prices.

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More than 10,000 Floridians complained about price gouging after 2008’s Hurricane Ike, many about gas prices, but the approach of storms can shut down refineries or otherwise drive up fuel prices. In this case, Hurricane Harvey’s devastation of Texas had already affected supply and was sending prices up even before Irma entered the picture.

What does Florida’s law cover? The price gouging statute mentions “essential commodities.” The Florida Attorney’s General’s Office says this includes food, water, ice, chemicals, petroleum products, and lumber to protect or fix properties. Not covered: Alcoholic drinks and cigarettes.

To report price gouging, call 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

Charles Elmore, Palm Beach Post |
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