Texas attorney general warns of price gouging after Harvey

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WATCH Texas AG warns of price gouging following Harvey

Editor’s note: This has been updated to remove a photo that was not related to the story.

The Texas attorney general says he has received "hundreds" of reports about price gouging in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which has inundated much of southeastern Texas with deadly floodwater this week and displaced thousands of residents.

"We've seen water up to $99, for a case of water," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told ABC News. "We've seen fuel prices up to $20 a gallon. We've seen hotels jack prices up sometimes six, seven times what they should be charging from their normal rate."

The attorney general's office warned consumers to "be on your guard" in a statement on its website.

"Price gouging is illegal, and the Office of the Attorney General has authority to prosecute any business that engages in price gouging after a disaster has been declared by the governor," the statement read. "The attorney general has issued stern warnings about price gouging to businesses in times of disaster, but you should still be on your guard."

Slideshow: Gulf Coast residents struggle to recover after Hurricane Harvey
SLIDESHOW: Slideshow: Gulf Coast residents struggle to recover after Hurricane Harvey

In Texas, offenders who engage in price gouging can face fines of up to $20,000 per offense, and up to $250,000 if the victim is 65 or older.

Paxton urged consumers to file a complaint or call the attorney general's hotline if they feel they are victims of price gouging.

"We're looking at prices over the last three months," Paxton told ABC News. "And if you've increased those prices by more than 10 percent, we're going to look at it."

Local media reports claimed that a Best Western Hotel in Corpus Christi, Texas, was accused of nearly tripling room rates as the storm closed in on the area. Best Western told ABC News in a statement that they were "immediately severing any affiliation" with the hotel.

"We are deeply offended and saddened by the actions taken by this hotel. As a result, we are immediately severing any affiliation with the hotel. This hotel's actions are contrary to the values of Best Western. We do not tolerate this type of egregious and unethical behavior," the statement from the hotel chain said, adding that their thoughts and prayers were with the victims impacted by the hurricane.

In a video posted to Facebook that garnered 139,000 views since Saturday, one woman claims that at a local RaceWay gas station convenience store she paid nearly $70 for what she says was two cases of beer, which were listed on the receipt she showed as "grocery."

RaceWay told ABC News in a statement that the store in the viral video "is operated by an independent RaceWay contract operator," and that the incident "was a clerical error and not price gouging."

"We take these allegations seriously and are investigating them with the operator," and adds that the manager of the store mistakenly overcharged the customer and later gave a full refund.

On their website, the office of the attorney general describes price gouging as "selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price" or "demanding an exorbitant or excessive price in connection with the sale or lease of fuel, food, medicine or another necessity."

Despite the uptick in reports of price gouging following the hurricane, Paxton told ABC News that he believes there are more good people rising to the occasion in the aftermath of the disaster than bad people ripping others off.

"I do think people should know that in Texas most people are not price gouging, most businesses are not price gouging, and for that matter we've had a lot more volunteers saving people's lives than we've had people ripping people off," Paxton said. "This is a great state, and we're just trying to make sure that the people that are on the fringes doing some of these things get caught and they pay the fines."