Los Angeles County is set to launch a mobile app to make it easier to report cases of price gouging and phony COVID-19 remedies, the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs announced Wednesday.
Reports of price gouging on essential goods have been widespread during the pandemic, with the department tracking and documenting more than 500 complaints.
The "Stop Price Gouging" mobile app, to be available soon in the iOS and Android stores, will allow shoppers to file on-the-spot, accurate complaints that can be supported with photos of receipts, advertisements, products and other possible evidence of wrongdoing.
A web-based version is available at stoppricegouging.dcba.lacounty.gov.
Timely reporting is critical to catching perpetrators.
"It is unethical and unconscionable for unscrupulous vendors to prey on our most vulnerable residents particularly during this pandemic," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the motion to establish the county's price gouging ordinance and recently authored a separate motion delegating subpoena power to the DCBA.
"We are empowering consumers with technology, and we are prepared to protect our residents using the full force of the law."
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DCBA is part of a task force on price gouging and COVID-19 scams that also includes Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, County Counsel Mary Wickham and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.
The City Attorney's Office filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles-based Insan Healing and its CEO for fraudulently advertising and selling "radish paste," claiming it would protect the lungs and prevent COVID-19.
The suit seeks a permanent injunction to stop the sale of the product, a penalty of $2,500 for each violation and restitution for buyers. The DCBA assisted in the investigation.
"Our department, along with our task force partners, recognize the needs of consumers do not stop in this time of emergency," said DCBA Director Joseph M. Nicchitta.
"We will explore every avenue and continue to innovate and empower consumers against the predatory actions of price gougers and scammers."
Residents can also report scams and price gouging -- legally defined as a price increase of more than 10% after the declaration of an emergency by phone at 800-593-8222 or online at dcba.lacounty.gov.