Price gouging

Hundreds of Price Gouging Complaints Filed During Coronavirus Pandemic

NBC 7 Responds looked at how many cases have been reported to the county District Attorney

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Empty shelves and hard-to-find products were common at the start of the pandemic. Many store shelves have returned to normal but sometimes the prices are different.

That's why San Diegans filed hundreds of price gouging complaints.

"I know you need to make a profit," said Christine Peterson in Oceanside. "I have no problem with that but do it with a heart."

Peterson is one of the hundreds of San Diegans who have reported an instance of price gouging. She was searching for toilet paper at a large drugstore chain and found a six-pack listed at $15.

"I think they just raised the price," said Peterson who also asked a store employee about the price, "She laughed and then just left it at that."

San Diego's District Attorney's office told NBC 7 it had received at least 367 complaints in April and was seriously investigating 79 of them.

"I got home and the more I thought about it, I just got more mad about it," said Peterson. "Like something has to be done."

Peterson left a complaint with the state Attorney General but even if the price was raised it may not count as price gouging. California's Penal Code says there has to be a declared emergency and prices have to jump by at least 10 percent.

A spokesperson for San Diego's District Attorney would not tell us which stores are being investigated but did explain their process.

"We first determine what the price of the item was before the State of Emergency and what it is now in order to establish the elements of the crime. In instances that appear to be gouging, we send an investigator to contact the manager or store owner. Once contacted, most businesses comply."

Part of the investigation is trying to figure out where the increase happens. Some store owners told our colleagues at Telemundo 20 the price increase actually came from the distributor or manufacturer.

"It's essential stuff," said Peterson. "How can they do that?"

If you think you have seen an instance of price gouging, you can file a complaint with the District Attorney's Consumer Protection Unit or California's Attorney General.

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