Many who wanted to fill up gas tanks after work on Monday in Western North Carolina had to deal with long lines and short supplies. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

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By Kristy Kepley-Steward for WLOS

Demand for fuel and prices are on the rise across the region after a cybersecurity attack last Friday shutdown the Colonial Pipeline.

The 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline delivers 45% of all the fuel used along the East Coast. The pipeline is still partially shut down, with some of the smaller lines between terminals and delivery points online again. Still, the main lines remain closed.

As news of the shutdown spread, and with no real direction on just how long the pipeline will be out of operation, drivers rushed to the pumps to fill up.

On Monday, Governor Roy Cooper signed an Executive Order declaring a state of emergency in North Carolina. During a state of emergency, the states price gouging law is in effect. The law states that it is illegal to charge excessive prices during a state of emergency.

“The hackers who breached Colonial Pipeline’s systems have made it harder for hardworking North Carolinians to go about their lives, but I will not allow businesses to take advantage of this incident to charge excessive prices,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “North Carolina’s price gouging law is in effect – please let my office know if businesses or people might be trying to profit off this situation so we can hold them accountable.”

When a disaster strikes the demand for basic necessities often spikes as well. When retailers take advantage of customers by charging unreasonable prices for those necessities, including gas, it is referred to as “price gouging.” In some cases, businesses and industries that are heavily impacted by the incident causing the state of emergency have a reasonable need to increase prices in order to resupply, but they should disclose these increases and allow people to make informed purchasing decisions. Businesses cannot, however, unreasonably raise the price of goods or services to profit from a state of emergency.

Under the law, the Attorney General’s Office can put a stop to price gouging and seek refunds for consumers who paid too much. The courts may also impose civil penalties against price gougers of up to $5,000 for each violation. The law applies to all levels of the supply chain from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer.

Attorney General Stein and the North Carolina Department of Justice will be reviewing price gouging complaints from consumers closely and are prepared to take action against any businesses engaging in price gouging activities. Please report potential price gouging by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint CLICK HERE.

On Tuesday, News 13 reached out to state Attorney General’s office to see if they had received any reports of price gauging yet. The office responded, saying they had received 39 price gouging complaints since the state of emergency was declared.

Since 2018, Attorney General Stein has brought nine lawsuits against 25 defendants under North Carolina’s price gouging statute. He has obtained nine judgments against 18 defendants, including a $274,000 settlement that was the largest price gouging settlement in the department’s history. DOJ has won more than $975,000 in these judgments and settlements.

CLICK HERE to check out GasBuddy’s fuel availability tracker app to find and report fuel if stations run out of gas in your area.

And, to check out gas prices in your area, CLICK HERE.

WLOS

WLOS ABC 13 is the ABC affiliate based in Asheville, N.C., and covers much of Western North Carolina. Check your local listings for news programming, or visit WLOS.com.