A statement of the Attorney General's Office, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001:
We consider it an unfair practice if sellers of gasoline take advantage of the tragic situation by raising gas prices exorbitantly and without justification. Our investigation and action starting yesterday suggests that a small percentage of retailers raised prices sharply yesterday, but that prices mostly have returned to near-normal levels.
If consumers believe they were the victims of unjustified high prices, we encourage them to go back to retailers and ask for a refund. We ask consumers to contact our office if they seek a refund and are denied.
We are investigating the situation and considering legal action. We are investigating in cooperation with the Iowa DNR and others who are providing information on gas pricing, including the DOT, the Iowa Department of Agriculture, and in some cases local law enforcement officials. Many citizens also are providing information on price increases at certain stations in some communities.
It is unjustified, unconscionable and unacceptable for sellers to raise their prices to exorbitant levels in the wake of the attacks. This could be an unfair practice and a violation of the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act with potential civil penalties up to $40,000 per violation. As the Petroleum Marketers of Iowa have noted, "there is no indication that wholesale prices have increased dramatically," so there is no justification for retail prices to increase exorbitantly.
Our office also encourages citizens to maintain their confidence that Iowa's gasoline situation is quickly returning near to normal. (The DNR and other experts have noted, however, that pre-attack supplies have been tight for some time, mostly as a result of refinery closings and other factors.) Most important, there is no interruption of supply, no new shortage, and no disruption in pipelines or other transport. Just as in normal times, there is no need to "gas up" unless your tank is running low, and certainly no need to wait in gas lines.
Second, we believe gas pricing is returning to near normal. It was a small minority of sellers who raised their prices yesterday, and we believe those seem to have been lowered to typical levels. Most stations are posting typical prices again. We believe the vast majority of Iowa retailers did not and are not price gouging or seeking to unfairly take advantage of this situation. We think Iowa is doing its part to return to normalcy in terms of gas pricing.
Our top objective has been to stabilize the situation, reassure Iowans, and send a strong message that price gouging will not be allowed. Consumer Protection investigators have been calling many gasoline retailers around the state or making visits to follow up on consumer inquiries and information.
We also have received several reports of retailers offering refunds to customers who bought gas at high prices. We encourage customers to return to stations and ask about such refunds. We also have heard of stations making donations to charity in lieu of being able to identify persons who paid very high prices before prices dropped..
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