A natural disaster leaves more than uprooted lives in its wake. It also pulls in an army of price gougers, fly-by-night door-to-door contractors, and bogus charities.
Some businesses raise their prices excessively on essential goods and services like drinking water, ice, groceries, fuel, towing, and car and home repairs. Charging excessive prices for necessities in an officially recognized disaster area can constitute price gouging.
Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, price gouging is illegal, and the Office of the Attorney General has authority to prosecute any business that engages in price gouging after a disaster has been declared by the governor. The attorney general has issued stern warnings about price gouging to businesses in times of disaster, but you should still be on your guard.
If you feel that you are being unfairly charged for goods or services such as drinking water, food, towing, or any other necessity, raise the issue of price gouging with the provider. Speak to them respectfully but be frank. If you are unable to resolve the matter, file a complaint with our office.
After natural disasters, door-to-door salespeople flock to some neighborhoods offering clean up and repair services. While many of these people are honest and reputable, some are not.
Protect yourself and your wallet from unscrupulous operators. If you are insured, call your insurance adjuster and have them make an estimate of the damage and probable repair cost. This will give you a benchmark estimate, prepared by a professional, when you negotiate with contractors.
If someone does come to your door and offers to do repairs, we suggest that you do the following:
In summary, be cautious and take your time.
Be especially suspicious of door-to-door salespeople who make "low-ball" estimates, refuse to leave a contract overnight so you have time to review it, or try to sell their services to you by playing on your emotions.
In the wake of a natural disaster you may want to assist by giving to a charity that provides assistance to victims. We commend your generosity, but urge you to make sure your donations go to legitimate organizations.
It is wise to give only to charities you are already familiar with. Most reputable organizations do not directly solicit donations from individual consumers by telephone, email or door-to-door visits. Do not use links embedded in unsolicited emails to access an organization's website.
The following resources can help you research charities: