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SB District Attorney’s Office warns about coronavirus and price gouging

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Walmart in Victorville had dozens of Lysol cans possibly mislabeled on a shelf priced at $9.97. (Hugo C. Valdez, VVNG.com)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — The San Bernardino County District’s Office wants you to know that price gouging during a State of Emergency, can be illegal.

Businesses and even people online have spiked prices for household products that could be used to protect yourself against the coronavirus.

A search on Amazon.com for Kirkland (Costco brand) toilet paper has several vendors selling a single case for over $60!

Amazon previously stated they were cracking down and “aggressively enforcing” its policy. The company said it’s already removed thousands of accounts over price gouging.

On Friday, Facebook Director of Product Management Rob Leathern said they were banning ads and commerce listings selling medical face masks. “We’re monitoring COVID19 closely and will make necessary updates to our policies if we see people trying to exploit this public health emergency. We’ll start rolling out this change in the days ahead,” he stated.

eBay has already banned the sales from U.S. listings for hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and surgical masks to stop price gouging.

(A case of toilet paper from Costco was selling for over $60 on Amazon.com)
(A case of toilet paper from Costco was selling for over $60 on Amazon.com)

The DA’s office said California has an anti-price gouging law you should know about.

WHAT IS PRICE GOUGING?
Price gouging refers to sellers trying to take unfair advantage of consumers during an emergency or disaster by greatly increasing prices for essential consumer goods and services.

IS IT ILLEGAL?
Yes, in certain circumstances. California’s anti-price gouging statute, Penal Code Section 396, prohibits raising the price of many consumer goods and services by more than 10% after an emergency has been declared.

Local laws may also contain their own prohibitions on price gouging.

WHEN DOES THIS LAW APPLY?
The statute applies immediately after the President of the United States, the Governor of California, or city or county executive officer declares a state of emergency.

WHO DOES THE LAW APPLY TO?
Individuals, businesses, and other entities must comply with the statute.

WHAT GOODS OR SERVICES ARE COVERED?
The statute applies to the following major necessities: lodging (including permanent or temporary rental housing, hotels, motels, and mobile homes); food and drink (including food and drink for animals); emergency supplies such as water, flashlights, radios, batteries, candles, blankets, soaps, diapers, temporary shelters, tape, toiletries, plywood, nails, and hammers; and medical supplies such as prescription and nonprescription medications, bandages, gauze, isopropyl alcohol, and antibacterial products.

It also applies to other goods and services including: home heating oil; building materials, including lumber, construction tools, and windows; transportation; freight; storage services; gasoline and other motor fuels; and repair and reconstruction services.

WHERE DOES THIS APPLY?
The statute does not restrict its protection to a city or county where the emergency or disaster is located. In addition to applying in the city or county covered by the declaration, it is intended to prevent price gouging elsewhere in the state where there is increased consumer demand as a result of the declared emergency. For example, if a fire in San Diego County causes residents to evacuate to neighboring Imperial County, hotels in Imperial County may not raise rates by more than 10% to take advantage of the increase in demand for lodging.

SHOULD I REPORT PRICE GOUGING TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE?
Even though our office cannot represent individuals, the attorney general may, on behalf of the public, investigate or prosecute someone who has engaged in price gouging. Anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, is encouraged to immediately file a complaint with the attorney general’s Office by going to the attorney general’s website or by calling (800) 952-5225.

*The above information was taken from the California Attorney General’s website at oag.ca.gov.

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