As Rhode Islanders continue to clean up from super storm Sandy and a state of emergency is still in effect, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin reminds all retail sellers, whether individual business owners or corporations, not to try to profit from the storm. Rhode Island General Laws 6-13-21 broadly prohibits all retail sellers from increasing prices of any item immediately prior to or during a declared state of emergency by an amount that represents an unconscionably high price. The maximum penalty for those found to have violated the statute is a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) per violation with an aggregate total not to exceed twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) for any twenty-four (24) hour period.
"While we have not received any complaints as of yet, it is important to remind everyone to be aware of potential price gouging and to report any incidents to our office," said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. "I know that the majority of Rhode Islanders do not take this attitude, but unfortunately, sometimes in a crisis there are those who seek to take advantage of the situation."
Anyone who feels they have been the victim of price gouging just before or during the state of emergency declared by Governor Chafee should contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit at (401) 274-4400. They should be able to identify what they purchased, when and where they purchased it, the price they paid and why they feel that price was recently increased.
In addition to the potential for price gouging, Attorney General Kilmartin offers consumers tips to protect from being ripped off by unscrupulous contractors.
In the event of power outages and downed tree limbs, utility workers will be working to clear debris and restore utilities across Rhode Island. Be cautious when allowing workers into your house. Any utility worker who is above-board will have identification and will not have a problem showing it to you.
Be wary of contractors going door to door offering assistance. Avoid any contractors who stop by your house and claim that they have extra materials and offer a big discount.
Be wary of contractors that only accept cash. Reputable contractors will accept checks or credit cards.
Check out a contractor before signing a contract or turning over any money. Homeowners should check with the Rhode Island Contractors' Registration and Licensing Board by calling (401) 222-1268 to ensure that a contractor is properly licensed and registered.
Get all quotes, estimates and work details in writing. This includes a written contract outlining all of the work that the contractor has agreed to perform, the dates the work will begin and is expected to be completed, the total cost of the work, the type and quality of materials to be used, how and when payments will be made and the provisions of warranties on the materials and labor.
Ask for proof of insurance, and make sure the contractor carries general liability and workers' compensation. If the contractor is not insured, you may be liable for accidents occurring on your property.
Avoid contractors that require you to pay for everything up front before they begin any work and never pay in cash. Scam artists will take the money and run. If you have to make a partial payment in advance for materials, make the check out to the supplier and the contractor or pay with a credit card.
Talk to your insurance company, read your insurance policy and contact the Division of Business Regulations/Insurance Division at (401) 462-9532 with any concerns.