Texas COVID-19 disaster declaration triggers tougher penalties for price gougers

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This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (pink) cultured in the lab. Credit: NIAID-RML

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent out a release cautioning Texans about potential scams taking advantage of circumstances around the new coronavirus. Paxton has some new help in cracking down on those price gougers.

The Texas Attorney General says that Governor Greg Abbott’s state disaster declaration Friday makes it a crime to price gouge for as long as the state disaster remains in effect. Price gouging is illegal, and Paxton says the governor’s declaration “triggers tough penalties” including civil penalties of up to $10,000 and additional penalties of up to $250,000 if the victims are elderly.

A spokesperson from Paxton’s office told KXAN Friday they have filed 62 complaints with their Consumer Protection Division related to coronavirus price gouging and they expect that number to increase. By Monday, Paxton’s office says they have already filed 255. Common items complained about include toilet paper, bottled water, and hand sanitizer, Paxton’s office said, noting that the two regions with the majority of complaints are Houston and Dallas.

“Situations like this usually bring the best of our communities to the forefront with cooperation, aid, and compassion. Unfortunately, some criminals take advantage of troubling circumstances to steal from hard-working Texans,” Attorney General Paxton said in a release. “As communities prepare to prevent the spread of Coronavirus and care for those in need, my office will work diligently to stop the scams perpetrated by those who look to take advantage of our citizens.

Paxton warned of deceptive trade practices, cyber scams and fraudulent emails.

“Any social media posts or email with a coronavirus (COVID-19) subject line, attachment or hyperlink should be treated with caution,” he said.

Paxton’s office pointed out that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued several precautions against COVID-19 scams. They encouraged the public to avoid clicking links in unsolicited emails, to be cautious of attachments, to use trusted sources such as government websites for information on COVID-19, to not reveal personal or financial information via email and to verify a charity’s credibility before making donations.

Paxton’s office says that if you believe you have been a victim of price gouging, you can call their toll-free complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online.

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