OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley and county sheriff’s officials are asking people to report novel coronavirus-related scams, price gouging, and non-compliance with health orders.
Separately, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned Californians Thursday to beware of fraudulent charities during the COVID-19 coronavirus public health emergency.
O’Malley said in a statement that her office encourages county residents to report any instances of price gouging when they shop for consumer goods or medical supplies.
O’Malley said price gouging refers to sellers trying to take unfair advantage of consumers during an emergency or disaster by increasing prices for essential consumer goods or services by more than 10 percent over their previous prices.
“I want to make it crystal clear that we will not stand for price gouging,” O’Malley said in a statement.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
O’Malley said, “It is illegal for any business to profiteer while we are in a state of emergency. All residents of Alameda County must continue to have access to necessary supplies, especially when the community’s health is at stake.”
She said that since county officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency and issued shelter-in-place orders, her office has received “a steady stream of calls and emails” reporting instances of price gouging on products ranging from paper goods to cleaning supplies and food.
O’Malley said anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or has information about potential price gouging, should file a complaint with the District Attorney’s Office by going to its website or calling (510) 383-8600.
She said violations of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in county jail time and a fine of up to $10,000. Violators also are subject to civil enforcement actions, including civil penalties, injunctive relief and mandatory restitution.
Alameda County sheriff’s Sgt. Tya Modeste said her office is also asking the public to report non-essential businesses functioning above minimum basic operations and residents engaging in non-essential activities and scams.
Modeste said people who have information about potential violations should email Covid19compliance@acgov.org.
She said guidelines for what has been deemed to be essential versus non-essential business activities are outlined in the county public health officer’s health order mandating that people shelter-in-place. It can be found on the Alameda County Public Health Department’s website at www.acphd.org.
The state attorney general also warned Thursday about people soliciting donations amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Californians have a big heart,” Becerra said. “Sadly, there are also scammers out their attempting to profit off of your generosity. I urge everyone to be vigilant. Do your research before donating,” Becerra said in a consumer alert.
He said genuine charities and telemarketers soliciting donations in California must be registered with the Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, which can be viewed online at oag.ca.gov/charities.
The online registry can be used by the public to research whether a charity is genuine, how it spends its donations and how much goes to overhead and employee salaries.
Becerra urged Californians not to give out personal information by phone, to be cautious of fraudulent “look alike” websites imitating real charities and to be wary of telemarketers.
“Give to organizations you trust,” he said.
The attorney general said that anyone who is aware of a charity scam can file a complaint on his office’s website at oag.ca.gov/report.