As Hurricane Irma descended upon Florida in 2017, a hotel near the sponge docks in Tarpon Springs doubled its rates for more than two dozen guests seeking shelter.
That’s called price gouging, and during declared states of emergency — like right now, as Hurricane Dorian churns toward the state’s east coast — it’s illegal. Already, the state has gotten reports of price hikes on essentials such as gas, water and plywood.
During Irma, residents mainly called in complaints. Now, they can use the new “No Scam” smartphone app.
“One of the most common storm-related scams we see is price-gouging,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a video posted to Twitter.
Her office launched the app to make it easier to report price gouging in real time. Available in the Apple and Android stores, the app allows users to send pictures of prices and products, capture receipts, write a narrative of what happened and upload any documents related to unlawful price hikes.
Moody told Jake Stofan of the Capitol News Service that everything posted to the app comes to her office directly.
“It allows us to have more success on the back end when we’re trying to pursue these individuals," Moody said.
Residents also can call the hotline at (866) 9NO-SCAM.
Moody first opened the price-gouging hotline Wednesday so residents could report inappropriate pricing across the state as they buy supplies and plan evacuation options. During Irma, the hotline got 7,500 complaints.
During a state of emergency, it is against the law to sell supplies or other essential commodities that “grossly exceed the average price” 30 days before the declaration goes out.
For example: Last year, the owner of the Tarpon Inn, Shreya Shah, agreed to pay restitution totaling $7,000 to the 36 guests the hotel overcharged during Irma, according to court records. Shah also had to pay the state a $25,000 fine.
In total, the state wound up pursuing about a dozen cases that stemmed from Irma during the year following the storm.
2019 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide
HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane
PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm
PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job
NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter