Citing more than 1,000 complaints about phony cures or inflated prices for essential goods during the coronavirus crisis, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday expanded consumer protections.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended giving the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs subpoena power to investigate cases.
“It is imperative that the county take all reasonable and necessary steps to protect consumers from price gouging during this emergency,” Ridley-Thomas said. “It is unconscionable for anyone to force people to pay more than they should for supplies that they need, particularly during a pandemic.”
The existing county ordinance makes it illegal to raise prices of consumer goods by more than 10 percent for 30 days following an emergency declaration — which the county made on March 4.
The board’s action provides for repeated extensions of the prohibitions on price gouging for as long as the emergency lasts.
The director of the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs said there are more than 200 cases under investigation, but the department is challenged by the volume of complaints and the fact that goods are often sold out before an inquiry can begin.
“With coronavirus, the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs is on the front line in the fight against price gouging, especially when it comes to essentials like hand sanitizer, canned food, rice, toilet paper, medicine and other items,” DCBA Director Joseph Nicchitta said.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said the county wasn’t immune to swindlers and those seeking to exploit the crisis, sharing stories of people calling and offering to sell the county respirators and masks.
“If we’re getting them, I can only imagine what people that are out there just desperate to find something are getting hit with,” Barger said.
Nicchitta said his department was also warning other county agencies and departments about diligently vetting potential vendors and deals.
Residents were urged to submit complaints online at dcba.lacounty.gov or by calling 800-593-8222.