Price Gouging is Illegal and You Can Help Stop It
On March 19, Californians were the first state in the country to be placed on a mandatory stay-at-home order to flatten the curve of coronavirus cases. Even before the stay-at-home order, Californians began stocking up on items including food, water, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and even toilet paper.
For Californians living in underserved communities, neighborhood markets and liquor stores are the go-to places for food and other household items. With the current demand for essential goods, residents are experiencing a surge in price gouging at these smaller stores. A day after California’s mandated stay-at-home order, the City of Fresno issued its first $10,000 administrative fine to a liquor store for price gouging bottled water during the coronavirus pandemic. The store was selling a 24-pack of Aquafina bottled water for $16 – the regular price is usually $3.99.
What is price gouging?
Price gouging, as defined on the California Office of the Attorney General website, refers to sellers trying to take unfair advantage of consumers during an emergency or disaster by greatly increasing prices for essential consumer goods and services. In California, it is illegal to raise prices by more than 10% on essential goods and services after the state declares a state of emergency.
What can consumers do when they encounter price gouging at stores or online?
California consumers have a few options to address price gouging:
- File a complaint through the California Attorney General’s office by calling (800) 952-5225, or online at http://oag.ca.gov/report.
- Contact the seller and send them the link to the AG office and directive and ask them to take down the listing: https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/pricegougingduringdisasters#3C.
- Report any suspected price gouging to your local county district attorney’s office, police department, or sheriff’s office.
On March 4, 2020, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a price gouging alert reminding “all Californians that, under Penal Code Section 396, price gouging is illegal in all California communities during the declared state of emergency.”
“Communities throughout our state are working to prevent and treat this public health threat,” said Attorney General Becerra in the official press release. “Californians shouldn’t have to worry about being cheated while dealing with the effects of coronavirus. 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. I encourage anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, to immediately file a complaint through my office’s website, call (800) 952-5225, or contact their local police department or sheriff’s office.”
For more information and FAQs about price gouging, visit the California Office of the Attorney General website here.