Gas Shortages Prompt Enactment of North Carolina Price Gouging Law

Consumers are urged to file complaints about prices that seem unreasonably high

Gas Shortages Prompt Enactment of North Carolina Price Gouging Law
Image: NCCC
September 20, 2016

Attorney General Roy Cooper is urging consumers to document and report all instances of gas prices that seem too high given the circumstances.

A pipeline spill in Alabama has prompted the enactment of North Carolina's price gouging law because it has caused gas shortages and therefore higher prices for remaining supplies. The pipeline carries gas through the southeastern states from the Gulf Coast.

More than 400 consumers had filed complaints reported possible price gouging to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office as of 11 am on Monday.

"Consumers are our eyes and ears on the ground and we want to know if you spot potential gas price gouging," Cooper said.

Price gouging—the practice of charging too much for a product or service during a time of crisis—is illegal in North Carolina whenever the governor declares or proclaims a disaster, emergency, or abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services. All levels of the supply chain fall under the purview of the law, which is currently in effect due to the governor's declaration of a market disruption for gasoline made on Friday.

Under the North Carolina law, price gouging is defined as charging "a price that is unreasonably excessive under the circumstances." The law does not define any set price or percentage increase, so it applies to different kinds of products and services during times of crisis and emergency.

Consumers should report any instances of price gouging to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office. It is helpful to include documentation such as photos of gas station price signs or receipts for any gas purchased.

The North Carolina Attorney General's Office follows up on price gouging complaints to determine if any violation of the law has occurred. The Division uses all information provided by consumers, including first-hand reports, receipts, and photos of price signs, and it contacts gas stations about reports it receives. It also examines the costs that suppliers charge gas stations.

Price gougers can be fined up to $5,000 for each violation of North Carolina law. The state constitution stipulates that all such fines go toward support of public schools. The Division also attempts to obtain consumer refunds whenever possible.