Trouble for some brings cash for others

After superstorm Sandy destroyed the east coast of the United States, entrepreneurial businessmen inflated the prices of essential commodities, in most cases, without justification. Unfortunately, the instances of people making money on the suffering of others are still numerous.

The devastating hurricane cost the U.S. economy $50 billion and 120 human lives. Small businessmen suffered from the natural disaster as well, and decided to get back what they have lost. Approximately 400 people complained to the authorities about unreasonable prices for essential commodities after the disaster.

For example, a bag of potatoes that used to cost two and a half dollars now costs seven or more dollars. A box of matches is sold at ten dollars. Lines at gas stations that barely have any fuel stretch for miles.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that the government would fight against those who unnecessarily inflate the price of food and essential goods.

He said that this was prohibited by law. His office received enough complaints from citizens and will take action. Of course, most businessmen understand that clients are their neighbors and it would be inappropriate to try to profit off of them, but added that the situation required particular vigilance.

The situation when manmade or natural disasters or acts of terrorism are used to earn money is not new to Russia. In 2011 blogs and media were full of reports about the behavior of taxi drivers who worked at Moscow airport "Domodedovo". Private cab drivers set extremely high prices after a terrorist attack in the airport. They charged 15-20 thousand rubles ($500-600) for a trip from the airport to the city. They were not bothered with the fact that people were trying to leave the place where a terrorist attack just happened and where there were dozens of victims. After media reports, Patriarch Kirill turned to taxi drivers asking them not to benefit from the tragedy.

Taxi drivers were not the only ones who tried to make money on "Domodedovo" tragedy. Cell phone users received text messages saying "Mom, I'm in the airport, it's a nightmare! Put 5,000 rubles (~$130) on my phone account." Because of the general confusion and panic, many who were concerned about their loved ones replenished the accounts specified by scammers. Despite numerous warnings that the message was a scam, citizens did not stop replenishing the scammers' accounts for a day after the explosion. As law enforcement agencies at the time were not able to pursuit the scammers, they remained unpunished.  

It was also reported that "entrepreneurial citizens" began selling drinking water in the airport that was brought into the terminal for everyone's consumption free of charge.    

The story at "Domodedovo" is not the only such example in Russia. After the explosion in the metro in 2010, taxi drivers did not shy away from raising their prices, and scammers were sending text messages asking for money for the relatives at the epicenter of the tragedy. 

The American story after Hurricane Sandy is likely still far from final. In the states that suffered from the disaster infrastructure is being rebuilt and restoration of order just started. This means that it will be difficult to freeze the price for some product groups. The authorities of the the affected states recognize this fact and note that the cost of certain goods is understandable, because the price includes transportation costs that is very high, considering damaged roads and streets littered with the debris.

The elimination of the consequences of the hurricane is the first task that re-elected President Barack Obama will have to tackle, and the results he produces will be one of the indicators of his success as POTUS.

Anton Frolov


Read the original in Russian

Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov