Warning by San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow
District Attorney Dan Dow issued a consumer alert on Friday warning businesses and consumers of price gouging and fraud in the wake of emergency declarations over coronavirus concerns.
During the state of emergency, Penal Code section 396 prohibits businesses, retailers, and other service or goods providers from charging a price that is more than ten percent higher than the amount that existed before the declaration. Covered goods and services include food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials, gasoline, transportation, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations, and rental housing.
Goods and service providers may charge more than ten percent only if their costs have increased.
“Where price gouging is observed, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office will aggressively investigate and prosecute those who prey upon the residents of our county to the fullest extent of the law,” said District Attorney Dan Dow.
Price gouging is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Violators may also be subject to civil enforcement actions and penalties up to $5,000 per violation, plus restitution.
In addition to price gouging, consumers should be on alert for criminals who may set up fake websites, send emails, texts or post on social media impersonating a relief agency to profit illegally. Also, be wary of businesses claiming to have a miracle cure.
At present, there is not a cure for the coronavirus. Do not respond to anyone claiming to have a vaccination or cure. While most businesses are honest and have good intentions, there are always bad actors waiting to take advantage of social fear and anxiety.
County residents may report suspected price gouging by calling the District Attorney’s Office at (805) 781-5800.