Price-gouging reported in Florida ahead of Irma

As Floridians brace for a potentially deadly Hurricane Irma, thousands of complaints accusing stores of price gouging ahead of the storm were filed Friday with the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

Consumers have called the attorney general to report price surges in water, ice, fuel, lumber and other supplies since the office activated a Gouging Hotline on Sunday, according to multiple local media reports.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Thursday blasted price-gouging businesses for "taking advantage of Floridians in a time of need." 

Bondi told Fox News her office has fielded thousands of complaints against businesses for increasing prices in advance of the strongest hurricane in Atlantic basin history.

"You cannot inflate prices during the time of a hurricane for essential commodities -- food, water, fuel, ecetera," Bondi said, adding that 45 complaints came in overnight Thursday against Chevron gas stations in the region.

In Tallahassee and Tampa, Chevron's prices were average, she said. But in Miami-Dade and Monroe County, customers were reporting inflated prices per-gallon.

Bondi demanded that representatives from Chevron contact her office to explain why they allegedly inflated their prices, while she commended commmercial airlines for offering reasonable rates for residents trying to leave the area.

America Airlines, she said, "stepped up to the plate" by offering $99 one-way flights anywhere out of five South Florida cities, one way.

"They're waving change fees and they're flying pets for free. I asked them to do that," she said.  

"My immediate concern is to get people out of Florida," she said. "If you're a bad business we are coming after you."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in all of Florida’s 67 counties. Under state law, it is illegal for businesses to inflate prices for basic commodities during an emergency to rates far exceeding the average price during the previous 30 days. Such items include gas, food and water as well as hotel rooms.

Martin Green, a call center operater with the price-gouging hotline, told the Orlando Sentinel of an especially egregious complaint.

"The worst call I got today, and this was the worst of the worst, was a 24 pack of six-ounce bottles of water, for $72 … $72," Green told the newspaper. "That was in Jupiter today."