Alameda County DA O’Malley Warns Against Price Gouging During State of Emergency

DA Nancy O’Malley has issued a stark warning to all Alameda County merchants that her office will be vigilant in investigating and prosecuting cases of price gouging while Alameda County is under a State of Emergency due to the novel Coronavirus. She also encouraged Alameda County residents to report any instances price gouging when shopping for consumer goods or medical supplies. Price gouging 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.

“The law prevents businesses from profiteering when 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. My office will ensure that businesses adhere to the law and do not exploit consumers that are trying to protect themselves and their families,” says District Attorney O’Malley.

California’s anti-price gouging statute, Penal Code Section 396, prohibits raising the price of many consumer goods and services by more than 10% after an emergency has been declared. Both Governor Gavin Newsom and the Alameda County Public Health Department have declared a state of emergency because of the spread of COVID-19.

The price gouging law applies to any person or business selling goods or services including consumer goods, food and drink items, emergency supplies, medical supplies, storage, emergency cleanup materials. The Governor’s Proclamation of a State of Emergency explicitly states that price gouging protections will remain in effect through September 4, 2020.

Violations of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in one-year imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office is committed to protecting consumers during this emergency. The office will investigate and can prosecute individuals or businesses who have engaged in illegal price gouging. Anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, is encouraged to immediately file a complaint with the District Attorney’s Office by emailing pricegouging@acgov.org or by calling (510) 383-8600. For more information on price gouging, please see the Attorney General’s website (https://www.oag.ca.gov/consumers/pricegougingduringdisasters)

Posted on Mar 4, 2020