During the COVID-19 emergency, consumer fear and anxiety have led certain individuals to try and profiteer at the expense of those in need. Reports of price gouging of essential goods have been widespread during the pandemic. In response, the L.A. County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA), which is charged with enforcing L.A. County’s price gouging prohibitions, announced a new “Stop Price Gouging” mobile application to help consumers easily report suspected cases of illegal price increases in L.A. County.
DCBA’s investigations team has tracked and documented over 500 price gouging complaints. DCBA’s new app, which will soon be available in iOS and Android stores, will help consumers file on-the-spot, accurate complaints that can be supported with photos of receipts, ads, products, or other possible evidence of wrongdoing. The new app is expected to increase rapid reporting of price gouging complaints, which is critical to ensuring that investigations are conducted close in time to the suspected price gouging activity.
“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 DCBA to enhance its ability to investigate and enforce the ordinance. “We are empowering consumers with technology, and we are prepared to protect our residents using the full force of the law.”
DCBA is part of a task force alongside the L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles County Counsel Mary Wickham, and L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer that collaborates on investigations related to price gouging and COVID-19 scams. Through the task force, DCBA supported Feuer in the filing of a lawsuit against Los Angeles-based company Insan Healing and its CEO for selling a sham COVID-19 remedy. As part of the lawsuit, Feuer alleges the company fraudulently advertised and sold “radish paste” to protect the lungs and prevent COVID-19. Feuer seeks a permanent injunction to stop the sale of Radish Paste, civil penalties in the amount of $2,500 for each violation of the California Business and Professions Code sections 17200 and 17500, and restitution to each of the customers who bought the product. DCBA Senior Investigator Taryn Lyon 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.”
You can report suspected COVID-19 scams or price gouging to DCBA through the new “Stop Price Gouging” app, by phone at (800) 593-8222, or online at dcba.lacounty.gov.