LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Law enforcement officials are warning the public to be on the lookout for price-gouging that unscrupulous business owners might want to perpetrate in the wake of California's massive wildfires.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer on Friday said price-gouging during a public emergency is illegal.
"Consumers should be very wary of price spikes for hotel rooms, gasoline and emergency items like generators," said Feuer. "If you suspect price gouging, report it to my office immediately. When appropriate we will prosecute."
L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey echoed the warning, saying people should be cautious of price hikes "of 10 percent or more on essential goods and services."
It's unlawful to raise prices more than that within 30 days of a declaration of a local state of emergency.
"Scammers and dishonest merchants, unfortunately, try to take advantage of those affected by disasters," Lacey said in a D.A. "Fraud Alert" video.
She added that price-gouging is a crime, which can carry with it up to year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
It is also illegal for contractors to raise their rates for reconstruction or clean-up services more than 10 percent within 180 days of the declaration.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for L.A. County Tuesday, while L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti did the same for the city Wednesday. On Friday, the president of the United States approved a federal state of emergency declaration for the entire state of California.
Anyone who suspects they have been a victim of price-gouging should save their receipts.
They are encouraged to call the D.A.'s Consumer Protection Division at (213) 257-2450, or the city attorney's consumer complaint line at (213) 978-8340.
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