SAN DIEGO–As Californians struggle to adapt to the havoc created by the COVID-19 pandemic, they shouldn’t have to also worry about being gouged when buying essential items.
In an effort to update existing laws and combat illegal price spikes happening in San Diego and across the state, DA Summer Stephan has joined Senator Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana) and Orange County DA Todd Spitzer in debuting new legislation, Senate Bill 1196, that will tighten California law to assist law enforcement officials in prosecuting instances of price gouging that are committed by new sellers during an emergency.
“Emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic bring out the best in most Californians, but some businesses take advantage of emergency conditions to gouge consumers with extreme prices for essential goods and services,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “This bill will help close loopholes that allow greedy actors to escape accountability and ensures that California businesses don’t charge abusive prices for health and consumer essentials during this national emergency.”
Currently, under California Penal Code Section 396, price gouging is illegal and punishable by law during a declared state of emergency. However, the code hasn’t been changed since 1992. For example, current law dictates that a seller has committed price gouging when they charge “a price of more than 10 percent greater than the price charged by that person for those goods or services immediately prior to the proclamation or declaration or emergency.” This section clearly prevents established sellers of specified goods from committing price gouging, but is silent to new sellers in a market place. This amendment clarifies existing law to ensure that the safeguard applies to online purchases.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has received more than 280 reports of potential price gouging, is investigating each complaint and has contacted 60 businesses.
“We are committed to protect Californians from those that prey on our community during the trying times of national or global emergencies. We will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent price gouging during this, and any future disaster” Senator Umberg said. “There are brave men and women in the health and public safety sectors of our community whose lives are on the line every day. It is immoral and unacceptable to allow some to take advantage of this crisis when so many are fighting to help.
Report price gouging to the DA’s Consumer Hotline at (619) 531-3507.