Don’t Get Scammed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

District Attorney Summer Stephan
San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I am doing that that is through this monthly column, where I provide information and tips on how you can stay safe. I’ll also keep you updated on current trends and topics in the criminal justice system.

With everything from school, sporting events and concerts being canceled and bars and wineries being advised to close, there is not a person left who has not been affected by COVID-19. Unfortunately, in a moment of desperation like this one, scammers only see opportunity.

During disasters, bad actors make money by preying on fear and anxiety. They increase prices on essential items or find other ways to bilk residents, such as peddling fake cures or offering phony services. Consumers should know that it is against the law to increase prices on essential items such as water, batteries or cleaning supplies, by more than 10 percent, unless the business can prove that its own costs have gone up.

During a state of emergency, which was declared across the state by Governor Gavin Newsom on March 4 and by the County Board of Supervisors on February 19, violations of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in one in jail and or a fine of up to $10,000. Violations are also subject to civil enforcement actions that include civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.

Here is a list include items for which price gouging can be penalized:

  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Emergency supplies such as flashlights, radios, batteries, and candles
  • Water
  • Blankets
  • Soaps
  • Diapers
  • Toiletries
  • Medical supplies including prescription medication and hand sanitizer
  • Animal food
  • Gasoline
  • Housing
  • Transportation

It’s also against the law for a hotel or motel to increase room prices by more than 10 percent during an emergency and for 30 days afterward.