Tennessee Attorney General Cautions Tennesseans To Be Alert To Price Gouging

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper is cautioning consumers to be alert to potential price gouging following deadly storms and tornadoes that occurred in West and Southern portions of Middle Tennessee Monday.

Attorney General Cooper, in conjunction with the Division of Consumer Affairs, reminds consumers and business owners to be aware of potential price gouging. The price gouging act specifically cites that it is illegal to set prices that are grossly in excess of the price generally charged immediately prior to the disaster.

The price gouging act is triggered when a disaster is declared by the state or by the federal government.

Another law, however, makes it illegal to “unreasonably [raise] prices or unreasonably [restrict] supplies or essential goods, commodities or services in direct response to a natural disaster,” regardless of whether the event occurred in Tennessee. Penalties for violations of the act are up to $1,000 per violation. Additionally, the Attorney General in conjunction with the Division of Consumer Affairs can request that a court issue injunctions and order civil penalties of up to $1,000 for each violation. The State can also seek refunds for consumers.

“During times of crisis most Tennesseans and Tennessee businesses do what is right and work to rebuild and heal the community,” Attorney General Cooper said. “However, there may be a minority that seek to take advantage of those trying to clean up and repair storm damage. While you may feel a sense of urgency to quickly make home repairs and clear debris, please try to ensure you are using a reputable contractor.”

In addition to home repair, some may need gasoline and emergency supplies and services. These offerings are also subject to the price gouging laws. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav in 2008, the Office of the Attorney General took action against dozens of gas stations for violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act regarding inflated gas prices.

Problems that sometimes arise after a natural disaster include price gouging (in which a business unreasonably raises rates on essential goods and services during a State of Emergency or in response to a disaster), as well as fraud in the areas of home repair and debris removal.

“The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance urges consumers to report suspected price gouging by filing a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs,” Deputy Commissioner and Acting Consumer Affairs Director Steve Majchrzak said. “Please be prepared to provide specifics – including the location of the business and the price charged, to facilitate the reporting process. Complaints can be filed online at http://tn.gov/consumer/PriceGougeCmplnt.shtml or by phone at (1-800) 342-8385.”

The Department of Commerce and Insurance urges homeowners to take the time to verify with the department’s Board for Licensing Contractors before signing any contracts. Commerce and Insurance’s license database is found at http://verify.tn.gov/. The site provides free licensing information for dozens of professions – including home improvement contractors. The Board for Licensing Contractors also has a page of tips for consumers at http://1.usa.gov/GYSKNP.

General Cooper and Deputy Commissioner Majchrzak offer the following tips to avoid becoming a con artist’s victim:

*Avoid high-pressure sales tactics to urging you to act quickly before signing a contact. Take time to make a good decision.

*Do not pay money upfront before the job is finished.

*Ask questions and get references from people you trust before hiring someone to do work for you.

*Get the whole deal in writing - if a contractor promises you something get it in writing – you can add it to the contract language and have you and the contractor initial it.

*Take photos of your property damage right away, during the course of the repair work and completion photos. You should also take photos of any repair work you believe was not done correctly.




Study Shows 60 Percent Of Low-Income Tennesseans Face Civil Legal Problems

A study commissioned by the Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services with the support of the Tennessee Bar Association has found that more than 60 percent of vulnerable Tennesseans face a significant civil legal need. The goal of the study was to examine the effectiveness of delivering legal assistance to those in need. ... (click for more)

The Dixie Group Reports Formation Of Masland Hospitality

The Dixie Group announced the formation of Masland Hospitality, a new business will be led by Elizabeth Moore, vice president of Masland Hospitality. With Dixie’s recent acquisition of the assets of Burtco, LLC, a comprehensive offering of products will be available from Masland for the hospitality market. The product portfolio will include large scale public space patterns utilizing ... (click for more)

Kiser Takes Witness Stand For First Time; Says He Did Not Kill Deputy Donald Bond

Marlon Duane Kiser took the witness stand at his post-conviction hearing on Tuesday to declare that he did not kill Deputy Donald Bond, who was gunned down at a produce stand in East Brainerd 13 years ago. Kiser had not opted to go on the stand when he was convicted by a Nashville jury and given the death penalty in 2003. He said he believes it was Mike Chattin, the man he ... (click for more)

Courtney Godwin, 25, Was Victim In Monday Night Fire In Hixson

Chattanooga firefighters battled a fully-involved structure fire in Hixson Monday night, and the incident involved at least one fatality.  Dr. Steve Cogswell with the Hamilton County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the victim as Courtney D. Godwin, 25. Dr. Cogswell said Ms. Godwin died from smoke inhalation.   The first call to 911 Communications was received ... (click for more)

Chattanooga State Faculty Has No Business Being Involved In Hiring Decisions

This letter will hopefully bring some clarity to the recent situation created by the faculty of Chattanooga State Community College. It is based upon my tenure as a member of the faculty at Chattanooga State Technical Institute, the transformation to Chattanooga State Community College, and my service as the financial and administrative officer at Chattanooga State until my retirement ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Thanksgiving Conversations

I am not predicting this will happen but I have known it to occur – in the middle of the Thanksgiving feast there will come a lull in the conversation and you can save the day if you’ll immediately look at the person to your right and ask, “What is the smartest thing you ever heard somebody say?” It is an easy thing, because we all love wisdom, and the ploy comes to mind because ... (click for more)