Winter snowstorms bring out the best, and the worst, in some people.

It's not unusual to see neighbors helping neighbors shovel out their driveways and sidewalks following a big storm, such as the one that hit last weekend, and another that's expected to sock us tonight and tomorrow.

It's also not unusual to see people checking on elderly neighbors to see if their needs are met during a storm, when they can't get out of the house to take care of matters themselves. Mother Nature at her most severe, seems to trigger the best in some people.

Unfortunately that's not always the case. During difficult times such as snowstorms, some people seize the opportunity to take advantage of others.

The situation is such that Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett has cautioned Pennsylvania consumers and businesses about price gouging following a severe storm.

"Our state price-gouging law was designed to protect consumers and businesses from sudden, unwarranted price increases during emergency situations," Corbett said. "The price gouging restrictions apply to anyone involved in the distribution or sale of consumer goods or services, prohibiting 'unconscionably excessive' increases above the average prices observed during the week prior to the emergency."

Though we don't want to believe it, there is a small percentage of individuals who see an emergency such as a massive snowstorm as an opportunity to unfairly profit from it.

"As many Pennsylvania communities continue to dig free from last weekend's record snowfall, and with another major storm bearing down on the state, it is important for everyone consumers and businesses alike to understand exactly what constitutes price gouging," Corbett said. 'Price increases for consumer goods or services that are 20 percent or more above the average prices before the storm are not allowed, except in some very limited situations."

Price gouging law gives the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection the authority to investigate price gouging complaints and allows for penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.

He noted that the emergency price restrictions not only apply to businesses involved in direct consumer sales, but also to manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers and distributors of consumer products and services.

"I encourage any Pennsylvania consumer or business who feels they are the victims of price gouging to contact our office so we can thoroughly investigate the situation," he added.

Consumers can report potential price-gouging by calling the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline, toll-free at 1-800-441-2555 or by filing an online consumer complaints using the Attorney General's website, at www.attorneygeneral.gov.

Bob Urban

rurban@tnonline.com