The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday to strengthen protections for consumers and small businesses and crack down on price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended the ordinance, which authorizes civil actions against price gougers and penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.
The Department of Consumer and Business Affairs said it has received nearly 2,000 reports of price gouging and over 700 other complaints from a wide variety of consumers since a state of emergency was declared March 4th.
"It is unconscionable to exploit people's fears during a pandemic and force them to pay exponentially more than is reasonable for goods and services, essential or otherwise,'' Ridley-Thomas said.
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"With this urgency ordinance, we now have more tools to protect consumers against price gouging, product hoarding and other predatory practices aimed at turning panic into profit," he said. "Predators out there should hear us loud and clear today: we will not tolerate their abuse."
DCBA Director Joseph Nicchitta said scammers have no concern for struggling consumers, and said he looked forward to seeing them punished.
"Price gouging and coronavirus-related scams hit consumers hard at a time when every dollar matters," Nicchitta said. "We look forward to working with the Board of Supervisors, county counsel and prosecuting agencies to stop price gougers and scammers who seek to profit from grossly overpriced essential items and fake cures."
Nicchitta said the scams had affected a wide range of victims, from the most sophisticated buyers to the most vulnerable, and were being perpetrated across all sectors of the economy.
"The price gouging and scams we've seen during this pandemic have been particularly pervasive,'' Nicchitta told the board. "Every consumer is a potential victim."
Anyone who believes they have been a victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, is urged to immediately file a complaint through the county's Stop Price Gouging app at stoppricegouging.dcba.lacounty.gov or by calling 800-593-8222.