County prosecutors and the Better Business Bureau both offered words of warning and a caution to look out for crime, in light of recent fires in Santa Clarita and throughout Los Angeles.
“During this time of emergency, the public should be on the lookout for price hikes of 10 percent or more on essential goods and services,” said Jackie Lacey, Los Angeles County District Attorney, “scammer and dishonest merchants, unfortunately try to take advantage of those affected by disaster.”
While insurance scams are notorious after disasters like the string of local fires, displaced residents can fall victim to consumer fraud, as well.
During natural disasters, deceitful merchants may charge excessive prices for essential consumer goods and services.
“Price gouging during a state emergency is a crime punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $10,000 fine,” she added. “My office is committed to prosecuting those who are trying to make a quick buck at the expense of someone’s personal tragedy.”
This law applies to vendors of food, building materials, emergency supplies, medical supplies, gasoline, transportation, hotel accommodations, rental housing and similar resources.
While some costs may naturally rise because of increased demand, state law generally prohibits charging more than 10 percent above the price of an item before an emergency declaration.
Those convicted of price gouging could up face up to one year in county jail and a $10,000 fine.
- Be aware of changes in price for goods and services
- Save receipts, if you suspect purchase prices were inflated
- Report suspected price gouging to the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division at (213) 257-2450
For those looking to give
The Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles also offered some important advice for residents who need assistance and those who want to help fire victims.
“People are at their most vulnerable and this is a time when scam artists up their game,” says Steve McFarland, President & CEO of Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles & Silicon Valley. “Not only is it important to make sure you’re dealing with trustworthy businesses but that your donation is going to a reputable charity.”
McFarland advises southern California residents to visit BBB’s ScamTracker to see which scams are prevalent in their neighborhood or community. ScamTracker is a real-time, crowd-sourced interactive database of scam reports filed by the public. Each report shows the type of scam, a description of the scam and the amount of money lost.
“Right now ScamTracker shows over 90,000 reports including nearly 5,000 in southern California and we expect that number to grow as fraudsters take advantage of the fires for their own personal gain,” says McFarland. “You can see scam activity across the region or drill down to your zip code.”
As residents begin putting their lives back together and rebuilding, BBB urges them to watch out for phony contractors. First, check out the business at bbb.org, get several quotes, get everything in writing and verify the contractor is licensed with the Contractors State License Board.
Before giving to fire relief efforts, go to www.give.org to research charities and relief organizations and verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for charity Accountability.
For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org.