Business and Economy: Are you being gouged?

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

The executive order signed by Gov. Tim Kaine in the runup to the arrival of Tropical Storm Hanna two weeks ago is still in effect as consumers reel from the effects of gas prices that are up as much as 60 cents a gallon since Friday.

“If any citizen feels that they’re being unfairly taken advantage of, whether it’s gas prices or whether it’s construction companies or anybody who so dramatically increases the price to take advantage of a consumer such that the price is increased to what’s called an unconscionable level by the statute, they can make a complaint to my office by looking at our website, and we will investigate with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and under the right circumstances, we prosecute and get civil remedies for the victims of gouging,” Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell told Augusta Free Press correspondent Mike Hodge.

McDonnell and Hodge talked on Friday evening as prices began their sharp rise from the $3.50-a-gallon area to push closer to $4 a gallon as of this morning, according to AAA-Mid Atlantic. Prices in the Charlottesville and Roanoke markets have seen the biggest three-day increase – from an average of $3.57 a gallon on Friday in Charlottesville to $3.90 this morning, and from $3.55 in Roanoke on Friday to a whopping $4.14 average today.

When McDonnell and Hodge talked, prices were still inching upward in the range of 10 to 20 cents a gallon. “Whether 10, 20 cents on a three dollar and fifty cents gallon of gasoline is a matter of investigation. We’ll have to take a look at that. Generally that level would not be a gouge. But we’re going to keep an eye on it in light of Hurricane Ike and see if people are being taken advantage of here in Virginia just because of the storm,” McDonnell said Friday night.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Windy VanCuren said this afternoon that AAA has only gotten a few complaints of price-gouging. “We have also seen examples of retailers making tremendous sacrifices to avoid passing on price spikes to their customer base,” VanCuren said. “One major gasoline retailer told AAA it received a shipment over the weekend priced at $4.50 at the wholesale level, yet it ate much of the markup to keep its customers from going elsewhere. Most filling-station operators don’t have that option or luxury, and consumers will end up paying more for gas in the short term, at least,” VanCuren said.


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