Valley agencies keep close eye on price gouging cases

TULARE, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Tulare County District Attorney's Office says most businesses are doing the right thing by not raising the price of essential goods and services.

But they have received at least 50 complaints of price gouging since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The department's bureau of investigations has a task force that is tracking the complaints and visiting the businesses that have been reported for possibly breaking the law.

"Basically we've said, 'Hey, we've gotten a complaint that you're selling this item - toilet paper, eggs, milk - for a higher price than you were selling prior'," TCDA Supervising Investigator Jose Benavides said.

"We're here to make sure that that isn't happening. And we're here to educate you on what price gouging is."

After those first visits, a few stores have been checked on again by undercover investigators, who confirmed price gouging was indeed happening.

Those stores now face criminal charges and civil violations.

But many other stores won't be prosecuted because they weren't breaking the law.

"There are other instances where stores have been selling bottles of water, for example, for a dollar a piece, and they've now sold it for $24 for a case of 24 bottles," Benavides said. "Well, again, it's a misunderstanding. It's not really price gouging."

The Better Business Bureau serving Central California & Inland Empire Counties says they've received dozens of complaints since setting up an online price gouging reporting system.

They also review the complaints and forward them to the local district attorney's office if necessary.

"The price raise or the percentage has been astronomical - some to the tune of 50% higher than normal," said BBB's Liliya Rudan. "And we all know that is illegal to raise prices more than 10% when a state of emergency has been declared."

However, there is an exception to the price gouging law: If a seller can prove the price increase is related to a rise in labor or materials costs - they're following the rules.

But the BBB is encouraging everyone to behave appropriately - because their reputation is also on the line.

"Because once everything is over, consumers will remember which businesses were assisting them, and which tried to take advantage of them," Rudan said. "So we do ask everyone to remain ethical during this time."

The Merced County District Attorney's Office says they've received 24 price gouging complaints within the last week.

Fresno County prosecutors say they've taken 185 complaints since they put out a press release on price gouging two weeks ago.

Click here to access the BBB price gouging complaint form.

Click here for the California DOJ's price gouging complaint form.

Click here for Merced County DA's price gouging complaint form.

You can call the Fresno County DA at 559-600-3156, and the Tulare County DA at 559-636-5410.

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