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Officials: Coronavirus Price Gouging and Scams Will Be Prosecuted

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LOS ANGELES — Warning members of the public to beware of misinformation, price gouging and scams connected to the coronavirus pandemic, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and District Attorney Jackie Lacey have announced the creation of a Joint Coronavirus Task Force.

The L.A. County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs and L.A. County Counsel are also participating with multiple efforts to stop illegal and dangerous practices.

“We’re fighting to protect an anxious and uncertain public from price-gouging, online scams and misinformation,” said Feuer.

“My office is investigating traditional stores and online retailers, uncovering unsubstantiated advertising claims about alleged coronavirus prevention, treatment, and cures, and investigating safety products—such as protective masks—that may not perform as advertised, as well as products being sold at astronomical prices. And we’re taking action. If you’re a victim, please contact our Office.”

“As prosecutors, we see first-hand how consumer fraud can infringe on our sense of security, shatter our trust and endanger our well-being,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. “The consequences of today’s scams are more than just financial. These frauds may affect our health and the health of those around us. Unfortunately, every one of us is at risk of being duped by one of these scams.”

“With the spread of COVID-19, the most important action item is to safeguard our health and practice important prevention techniques. There is no room for moral depravity and putting profits over people. Under this State of Emergency, California’s price-gouging and consumer protection laws go into full effect. I encourage everyone to exercise decency and work with the City Attorney, District Attorney and Attorney General’s offices to end illegal acts in this critical moment,” said Assemblywoman Christy Smith, Chair of the California State Legislature Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management.

In its first effort to protect consumers from coronavirus scams, the City Attorney’s Office has announced immediate success in removing internet advertising making alleged false claims about coronavirus prevention and treatment.

Attorneys from Feuer’s office discovered alleged false advertising from the Los Angeles-area company CEN Group LLC via its website, www.safebabyhealthychild.com, which markets and sells vitamin supplements.

It alleges, among other alleged false claims, that vitamin C is a “safe and proven treatment” that “can protect against coronavirus,” that “[p]eople are dying needlessly of coronavirus,” that “high doses of vitamins, especially Vitamin C, can be used to address the coronavirus outbreak”, and that “the coronavirus can be dramatically slowed or stopped completely with the immediate widespread use of high doses of vitamin C.”

The F.D.A. and F.T.C. have recently warned that there are currently no vaccines or drugs approved to treat the coronavirus, and the National Institute of Health has also cautioned that “alternative” treatments—such as high doses of vitamins A, C and D also do nothing to protect from the virus and are ineffective against Covid-19—and can in fact be harmful.

Feuer’s office is concerned that the advertising claims related to Vitamin C as a treatment for coronavirus might induce consumers to ignore bona fide recommended precautions, such as vigilant hand-washing and social distancing, contacted the company.

In response, CEN Group LLC immediately agreed to remove these claims from its website.

Consumers must also be alert to price gouging laws, triggered whenever a federal, state, or local state of emergency has been declared, as on March 4  in Los Angeles County in connection with coronavirus.

Under the law, for 30 days following the emergency declaration, it is unlawful for any consumer good, food or service to be sold, or offered for sale, at a price higher than 10% more than it was sold, or offered for sale, prior to the emergency declaration.

This includes medical supplies and any items purchased online and delivered to Los Angeles.

The City Attorney has the authority to proceed both criminally or civilly in response to price gouging violations. Violators may be sentenced to up to one year of county jail and/or fined up to $10,000.

Civil law enforcement actions for price gougers can result in penalties, restitution to ripped off consumers and court orders to curb price gouging.

Investigators from the City Attorney’s Office have also been scouring brick and mortar and online businesses looking for overpriced items.  Over the last week City investigators found and purchased on Amazon a hand sanitizer two-pack for $149 and a half-gallon of bleach for over $100, and have since alerted Amazon to these practices. 

The City Attorney is awaiting delivery of these items and, if his office can identify their third-party sellers, is prepared to take legal action.    

Besides ripping off consumers, price gouging has another negative consequence. Even if consumers don’t make the purchase, just seeing such inflated prices can raise concerns and fuel general panic about a scarcity of items tied to this emergency.

Feuer’s office also is requiring companies advertising in California on coronavirus-related issues to substantiate claims with scientific or other appropriate evidence. To this end, the office has sent letters to companies which claim their products can prevent exposure to coronavirus and/or treat it.

Among the products the office has requested evidence about are “Silver Solution,” which is sold by televangelist Jim Bakker and claims to kill strains of coronavirus, and face masks sold on ModernBeyond.com, accompanied by claims that the masks can reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus by 95.99%.

If these companies do not substantiate or stop making these claims, the City Attorney’s Office will take further legal action.
Feuer and Lacey also warn of additional consumer scams related to coronavirus, which can include:

  • Websites selling fake cures and safety gear.
  • Fake emails, texts and social media posts from phishers posing as the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or the Department of Health and Human Services who spread false information about a cure in an attempt to get credit card and personal information or to convince people to click on links that can infect their computers with malware.
  • Fake donation requests, which may come in the form of people asking for donations to help those impacted by coronavirus and needing donations only by cash or gift card.
  • Fake investment opportunities such as products or services of publicly-traded companies being able to treat and cure coronavirus and whose stock will dramatically increase, so consumers are pressured to “get in now!”          

Feuer urges anyone who is a victim of price gouging or a coronavirus consumer scam to file a complaint with the Office of the City Attorney – either online or by calling 213-978-8340. 

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Consumer News

LA Alcohol Delivery Sees Massive Spike Following “Safer at Home” Order

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Photo by Waldemar Brandt

LOS ANGELES — Following California Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Safer at Home” order, Saucey has experienced an unprecedented number of users on their alcohol delivery platform.

The company has seen a 300% increase in area sales compared to a standard delivery day.

“As the concern over the COVID-19 virus has grown at both the state and public levels, I think you’re not so coincidentally seeing a rise in people ordering alcohol,” says Saucey co-founder and CEO Chris Vaughn. “We’re feeling the effects elsewhere too, like San Francisco and Chicago; we’re doing our best to assist everyone who wants to use us and use us safely.”

The Los Angeles-based app recognizes they are among select delivery services fortunate enough to be helping people in a variety of markets as they practice social distancing and protect themselves from the rapidly spreading Coronavirus.

“It’s good to see so many people making lifestyle adjustments that let them be as comfortable as they can be during this time,” Vaughn said.

There may be something to that comfort thing. Since March 15, Saucey has seen ice cream sales spike by 500% and soft drinks by 150%. Lime sales also spiked by 350%, potentially pointing to more people making mixed drinks.

As for the alcohol, vodka tops Saucey’s spirit sales and is up by 250%. Whiskey, however, saw the greatest spike at 300%. IPAs held the highest increase in sales in their beer category at 300%.

Saucey will continue providing safe deliveries to the people of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, San Diego, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Silicon Valley, Orange County and San Jose.

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Business

Costco Says Don’t Even Think of Returning Toilet Paper

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(TMZ) — Costco is unsympathetic to all the folks who stocked up on toilet paper like they were never gonna get another sheet … because the superstore has made it clear — NO REFUNDS!!!

This sign was plastered on the wall of the Costco in Pentagon City outside Washington, D.C. Now that people have settled in, it seems they’re realizing they have waaaaaay too much toilet paper, hand sanitizer, wipes and Lysol, and apparently some are trying to return it for cash.

You gotta be a little sympathetic … lots of people got laid off after they hoarded these items, so money is a huge issue.

Also on the no-return list — Water and rice.

Continue reading at tmz.com

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Consumer News

Drives Aim to Keep Historic Restaurants Alive During Outbreak

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Owner Dimitri Komarov at the famous Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood, Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

LOS ANGELES (Daily News) — With restaurants limited to takeout service or shut down completely by the coronavirus outbreak, a drive has been launched to keep some of Los Angeles’ legendary eateries from fading away.

Known as 1933 Group, the team operates about a dozen themed bars and restaurants in Los Angeles, including the barrel-shaped bar Idle Hour in North Hollywood, Harlowe in West Hollywood, Highland Park Bowl and the Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood.

Many of them have shuttered in recent days amid strict orders implemented by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti, aiming to stem the flow of deadly COVID-19.

“We are struggling to survive,” said Dimitri Komarov, the venues’ co-owner. “The impact is dire. We’re losing our […]

Continue reading at dailynews.com

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