The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office has evidence that businesses are taking advantage of tornado survivors, including charging them $40 for a case of bottled water.
Just hours after the tornado tore through Moore, Newcastle, and South Oklahoma City on Monday, businesses in the region were hard at work overcharging consumers, Attorney General Scott Pruitt told ABC News.
"This is something we were putting in place and starting in motion as soon as we knew the threat existed," Pruitt said. "We're going to places where we think potential harm could occur."
Pruitt said 30 investigators were sent to survey for fraud and immediately found violations.
The Emergency Price Stabilization Act partners law enforcement with consumer protection investigators to catch price gouging as it happens. The law was created after a tornado pummeled the same area in 1999. Under that law, no price can increase more than 10 percent for 30 days after a disaster. It protects consumers from exorbitant prices on things like water and hotel rooms as demand rises and competition is likely low.
According to Pruitt, the $40 case of bottled water was being sold by a hotel in the area. He claimed some consumers do not realize they are getting ripped off. "They would never anticipate or expect or guess that someone would take advantage of them right now, but this situation is what criminals prey upon," he said.
He also warned of bogus charities and quick-fix repair schemes. “Home and business owners will want to quickly repair their property, but we urge them to be cautious and patient and to use reputable contractors. Our Public Protection Unit investigators have prosecuted unscrupulous repair workers, commonly called travelers, who follow storms across the country to profit from the misfortune of others.”
Pruitt said investigators are taking tips from consumers and law enforcement and looking into business both in the affected area and nearby towns.
"We're looking at everything from work gloves to water to storage units, hotels and car rentals. And long term, we'll be dealing with home construction and repair," he said.
A hotline set up by the Attorney General’s office is taking reports of fraud: (405) 521-2029. The office released a tipsheet for avoiding disaster-related rip-offs and encouraged those who want to donate to victims to only give money to reputable charities, like the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.
"We pray there is some good that comes out of this, that (criminals) are discouraged when they know someone is there to enforce the law," Pruitt said. "And our citizens should know that they're safe from that."