Consumer protection hotlines and other methods of reporting are available to Southern California residents who believe there are businesses engaged in price gouging and scams related to the novel coronavirus emergency, authorities said Tuesday.

Both the state and local governments have prohibitions against gouging, which the law defines as businesses that raise prices in excess of 10% on goods and services generally recognized as essential — food, fuel, shelter — during a state of emergency.

The hotline set up by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigations staff is 951-955-0764. Complaints may also be lodged online at https://bit.ly/2WfQNID or directly to the California Department of Justice at https://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company

The Orange County District Attorney Coronavirus Scam Hotline is (714) 834-3482. Reports can also be emailed to reportascam@da.ocgov.com

San Bernardino County has similarly warned of scams and price gouging; and the District Attorney’s Office urged residents to report them.

In the Los Angeles area, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer and District Attorney Jackie Lacey this month announced the creation of a Joint Coronavirus Task Force to stop dangerous and illegal practices. The County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs and County Counsel are also participating in that effort.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County officials warned that reports of malicious websites, email schemes and suspicious links have come to the attention of law enforcement and public officials.

“Malicious actors can prey upon those that are distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and use it to their advantage,” Los Angeles County Chief Information Officer William Kehoe said in a statement. “The public needs to be mindful and careful, and avoid websites, phishing emails, and scams that engage people through false information about the health crisis, and steal personal user information and data. By clicking on fraudulent weblinks, hackers can deliver malware and then gain access to passwords, browsing information, credit card numbers, and other personal information. We all need to stay vigilant.”

There are several coronavirus tracking and mapping sites that are actually malware websites, the county said in a statement.

Residents were urged to:

–Avoid online advertising offers related to COVID-19

–Decline door-to-door solicitations claiming COVID-19 fundraising

–Not click on emails and attachments that you do not recognize

–Visit only trusted websites for COVID-19 related information

In a statement, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office warned that criminals may set up fake websites or charities, send emails, texts or post on social media pretending to be from the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an attempt to profit illegally.

“They may also seek donations to help victims of this emergency,” the statement said. “Also, be wary of any business claiming to have a miracle cure. There is currently no cure for coronavirus. Do not allow your fear and anxiety to overtake your common sense.”

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin released a statement vowing to protect “the public and consumers during this health crisis.” He noted that any form of price gouging is a potential misdemeanor offense.

“Those who price gouge are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a sentence of up to a year in county jail and/or fines up to $10,000,” according to a Riverside County D.A.’s statement. “There also can be civil penalties, including a fine of $5,000 per violation, restitution to the victim or victims and a court order to stop.”





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