TAMPA — Some 4,000 Floridians have called in complaints over price gouging since Monday as residents shop and travel in preparation for Hurricane Irma, Attorney General Pam Bondi said Thursday.
The worst offenders in the Tampa area are 7-Eleven convenience stores, she said, earning nearly 40 complaints this week.
"Shame on you if you're trying to gouge someone (for) water, food, baby supplies," Bondi said, addressing media at an office where staffers process the complaints.
During a state of emergency, Florida companies can't sell essential commodities — like food, water or emergency generators — at a price that "grossly exceeds" its average price for the previous 30 days.
"You can't take advantage of your fellow Floridians," Bondi said. "You can't do that. And shame on anybody who would want to do that, who wants to make an extra buck and hurt people who are trying to get out of our state."
The state can charge a one-time violator $1,000, and repeat offenders may have to pay up to $25,000.
"We can hurt you financially, but we can also destroy your reputation by telling everybody that you're bad and telling everybody not to shop at your business," Bondi said.
One loophole store owners exploit is selling cases of water for how much it would cost if they were to sell each bottle individually, rather than in bulk, which could be legal, but is definitely immoral, the attorney general said.
Representatives of 7-Eleven could not immediately be reached for comment.
Earlier Thursday, Bondi had taken to Fox News to criticize Chevron, the source of about 45 complaints already. She said later that she had spoken with representatives from the company, who told her they would pressure individual store owners to keep prices reasonable.
One senior in Deerfield Beach called the Attorney General's Office complaining that a home health care service jacked up prices from $20 an hour to $30, said Bob Follis, the staffer who spoke to the senior.
Bondi said the state is staffed with 50 full-time employees fielding calls and 60 additional volunteers. They are now getting about 100 complaints an hour, and is glad the word seems to be spreading.
"My goal is to fix it. My goal is to make sure everyone has a hotel, people have water, people have fuel at a reasonable cost so they can get out of town."
Anyone who sees potential price gouging can call the office's hotline, tollfree, at 1-866-966-7226.
Contact Langston Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @langstonitaylor.