Preventing Price Gouging in a Pandemic

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to strengthen consumer protections against price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supervisor also urged the public to be wary of scams and other attempts to exploit their fears, and to report complaints to the County’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA), which gained subpoena powers through his motion.

“It is imperative that the County take all reasonable and necessary steps to protect consumers from price gouging during this emergency,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “It is unconscionable for anyone to force people to pay more than they should for supplies that they need, particularly during a pandemic.”

The County’s Board of Supervisors and Department of Public Health declared a local and public health emergency on March 4, in response to the increased spread of COVID-19. The Supervisor’s motion calls for strengthening the County’s existing price gouging ordinance, which states that for 30 days following an emergency declaration, it is illegal to raise the prices of consumer goods by more than 10 percent.

Since the emergency declaration, DCBA has received hundreds of consumer complaints of price gouging and expects more. DCBA has also received complaints about businesses offering scam miracle cures. To date, no vaccine has been developed to cure COVID-19.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ motion calls for giving DCBA subpoena powers to enhance its ability to investigate the complaints and refer them to the appropriate governmental agency for potential criminal or civil action. DCBA will coordinate enforcement with the LA Office of the County Counsel, LA County District Attorney, LA City Attorney and California State Attorney General as appropriate. It also called for extending the period during which consumer prices cannot be raised more than 10 percent after an emergency declaration.

“With coronavirus, the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs is on the front line in the fight against price gouging, especially when it comes to essentials like hand sanitizer, canned food, rice, toilet paper, medicine and other items,” DCBA Director Joseph Nicchitta said. “I thank Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and the Board of Supervisors for advancing the rights of consumers during this unprecedented time.” He also urged members of the public to submit complaints by going to the department’s website, dcba.lacounty.gov, or by calling (800) 593-8222.

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