Question: My husband came home recently with two American flags. One was a small, cheap fabric flag that was being sold for $10. I consider this price gouging. I called the store to complain and I am returning the flags, but this practice is just going to go on. This is not the time for stores to be taking advantage of customers. Can anything be done?
Call state consumer office
to report price gouging
Answer: The good news is that no official case of price gouging has been found in Hawaii since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
On the mainland, gas stations in some cities immediately inflated prices by two or three times, before being forced to drop them.
If you think the store is guilty of inflating prices to take advantage of the situation, call the state Office of Consumer Protection (587-3222) and your complaint will be "promptly investigated," said acting executive director Stephen Levins.
"The (state's) general unfair or deceptive practices law could apply to instances of price gouging," he said.
Since Sept. 11, his office has received "isolated complaints" of price gouging, Levins said. But none of the complaints "panned out" after being investigated.
There is no "precise legal definition" of price gouging, Levins said. "You'd have to look at all the factors."
For example, say a store sold batteries or flashlights for $2.
"All of a sudden, a disaster hit and you raise the price to $20. To me, that's price gouging," Levins said. "To take advantage of a situation -- that has an unfairness element and that would be in violation" of the unfair and deceptive practices act, he said.
If, however, a store had no history of selling flashlights or batteries and brought them in to meet demand, "then it becomes a little bit more difficult."
There is a state law that prohibits raising prices during certain emergencies but, Levins said, that's tied to the governor declaring a natural disaster and also is "indexed to a severe weather watch (issued) by the National Weather Service."
Overall, he said, people in Hawaii don't appear willing to take advantage of misfortune or disaster.
During Hurricane Iniki in 1993, for example, "we did not experience any of the same stuff (with price gouging) that occurred on the mainland or in Florida during Hurricane Andrew," he said.
"I don't know if it's the character of the people who live in Hawaii" or whether Hawaii is such a small place "that you're going to have to deal with your neighbors after the fact," he said, "but we did not really have anything approaching the problems that they had on the mainland during Andrew."
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AuweTo the driver of a dark green vehicle at Kapiolani Boulevard and Kaheka Street recently. He clearly saw the light had turned red but hit his gas pedal and ran the red light even though he saw pedestrians getting ready to cross the street. Thank goodness he did not seriously injure or kill somebody. -- Christine
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered.
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