Reports of price gouging emerge in storm’s aftermath

Andrew Mollenbeck,

WASHINGTON – The air conditioning is out, the commute to work is blighted by dark traffic signals and there just aren’t enough public outlets to re-charge the cell phone.

But since the powerful storm last Friday, some have voiced complaints of a still- greater indignity: price gouging.

“We have received complaints about price gouging in the area of gasoline prices as well as in the area of hotels,” says Karen Straughn, the director of the mediation unit for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

“We actually did get some that mentioned prices and how much they went up. It ranged anywhere from 25 cents to about 50 cents,” she says.

The office has received about 10 formal complaints, citing locations in Beltsville, the College Park area and the Arundel Mills area.

“It’s unseemly, it’s unconscionable and it’s just not right,” says John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office has not independently confirmed the complaints of price gouging. That process takes time.

“Normally we take these complaints back to the business and communicate with them to find out what the situation is,” Straughn says.

Making it more difficult, Maryland does not have a specific law against price gouging, so the attorney general’s office is limited in what it can do.

Straughn says officials keep track of the findings in case legislation eventually comes up. At that time, they could present lawmakers with concrete examples of price gouging.

“This should be against the law,” Townsend says of price gouging.

“We need tougher consumer laws in place to protect people, especially in emergency situations.”

Gas prices have been in a steady fall for the past few weeks, although AAA does expect them to creep up a few cents.

Still, that rise would not account for any increase of 25 to 50 cents per gallon.

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