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CA Attorney General issues price gouging consumer alert following coronavirus State of Emergency

With store shelves emptied of soup and sanitizer, businesses are being warned against raising prices on in-demand items.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a price gouging alert Wednesday, following Governor Gavin Newsom's emergency declaration in response to cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in California. 

“Communities throughout our state are working to prevent and treat this public health threat,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Californians shouldn’t have to worry about being cheated while dealing with the effects of COVID-19. Our state’s price gouging law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on medical supplies, food, gas, and other essential supplies."

With reports of Sacramento stores running out of basic supplies like hand sanitizer and water bottles, there have been some concerns over stores charging a higher price for certain items because of the high demand.

However, California law states that price gouging is illegal during a declared state of emergency. In general, stores that carry certain supplies—such as food, emergency supplies, and medical supplies—cannot charge more than 10% of the price of that item before the declaration of emergency. 

RELATED: Gov. Newsom declares statewide emergency in California following coronavirus death

The law also applies to repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, transportation, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations, and rental housing.

If you have been the victim of price gouging or know of a situation where a business may be charging excessively for goods in high demand, Attorney General Becerra said you should immediately file a complaint through his office's website, or by calling (800) 952-5225.

Those who are found guilty of price gouging could receive up to one-year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violators of the price gouging statute could also have to pay civic penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.

The last instance of Attorney General Becerra issuing a consumer alert for price gouging was during the destructive Kincade and Tick wildfires of October 2019. 

RELATED: 'We're all losing money:' California small businesses face reality of electrical outages

Much like with the novel coronavirus, panicked shoppers affected by the wildfires and subsequent Pacific Gas & Electric Company [PG&E] blackouts feared there might be unlawful price gouging on necessary and life-saving supplies. Fortunately, Governor Newsom's declaration of a State of Emergency in response to the wildfires allowed for anti-price gouging law to also go into affect. 

According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) is a family of viruses that is spreadable from person to person. Coronavirus is believed to have been first detected in a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December 2019.  If someone is sick with coronavirus, the symptoms they may show include mild to severe respiratory illness, cough, and difficulty breathing.

Currently, there is no vaccine, however, the CDC suggests the following precautions, along with any other respiratory illness:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.

The CDC also says face-masks should only be used by people who show symptoms of the virus. If you’re not sick, you do not have to wear a face-mask. The CDC says the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low.


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