Price-Gouging Dings Consumers Amid Storm Frenzy

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Millions of Americans set out to buy emergency supplies in the days ahead of Hurricane Sandy.

Those buying essentials such as gas, food, water, batteries and generators expected to dip into their savings and spend more money than usual — but they did not expect to overpay.

Price-Gouging Dings Consumers Amid Storm Frenzy
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Price gouging is a common occurrence during emergency situations. Retailers know that consumers who need products will be willing to pay more for them, and they take advantage.

On October 29, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued an open letter to vendors reminding them that it is illegal to gouge prices during abnormal disruption of markets.

"As Attorney General, it is my responsibility to enforce the price gouging law, and while it is my hope that I will not need to do so, my office is certainly prepared," he wrote. "We will review pricing data, and take such complaints filed with office seriously, as we do with any matter."

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sent out similar warnings. In New Jersey it is illegal to raise prices by more than 10% during an emergency.

[Related: Atlantic City Casinos Shuttered Amid Sandy Fallout]

Despite these warnings, price gouging continues.

Matthew Hendershot, a resident of Brooklyn, experienced raised prices at the pump before Sandy. "I thought I would top off my gas tank to be safe before things got ugly," He told The Daily Ticker, "Prices for gas at this particular Getty just the other day were ranging from $4.09 to $4.29 for premium. This morning all of the prices had been set to $4.95 straight across the board, all grades and both the cash and charge payments. Usually the cash payment is ten cents less than if you pay with a card. So it seems pretty obvious that they just maxed out the price on everything to five bucks."

In North Carolina, District Attorney Roy Cooper has also put emergency price gouging laws into effect. "A crisis shouldn't be an excuse to rip off consumers," he says.

[Related: Hurricane Sandy: Pre-Storm Mayhem Hits NYC Whole Foods]

During Hurricane Ike, North Carolina suffered many cases of price gouging. Attorney General Cooper decided to investigate and prosecute and ended up issuing more than $70,000 in fines to gas stations alone.

It is important to remember that price gouging can also occur after the storm has ended.

"After any disaster like this hurricane, there are many scams around yard clean up and home repair," says Nancy Cahalen, president of the Better Business Bureau in Central New England. "Consumers are so eager to get help with these issues that they don't use the same good judgment the normally would when hiring folks."

"Stay calm, avoid letting your emotions get the best of you," she continues. "Don't let your emotions get in the way of making a decision, be selective and check backgrounds."