Kern County residents are being warned by District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer about illegal price gouging or charitable solicitation fraud following last week's earthquakes just outside of Ridgecrest.
In a press release on Monday, Zimmer reiterated that businesses and individuals are prohibited under California law from raising prices for 30 days after an emergency declaration.
On July 4, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in Kern County after the Ridgecrest earthquakes, according to the release.
Zimmer stated that under Penal Code Section 396, it's illegal to raise prices more than 10 percent for essential goods and services immediately before the emergency declaration. Raising prices is a practice commonly known as price gouging, according to the release.
Items applied under the law are consumer food items, goods or services used for emergency cleanup, emergency supplies, medical supplies, home heating oil, building material, housing, transportation, freight, storage services, gasoline, and other motor fuels, according to the release.
A business or individual who price gouges is subject to criminal prosecution that carries a penalty of up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Violators can also face civil enforcement actions and penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, plus mandatory restitution, according to the release.
Zimmer also warned Kern County residents to be cautious of unfamiliar individuals or organizations soliciting funds in support of disaster victims. Residents should only give money to charities and relief organizations that they are familiar with and have proper contact information that can be verified, according to the release.
"Kern County businesses historically have shown great restraint and compassion for those affected by disasters. For any who would give in to the temptation to benefit from others' misfortune, we will take price gouging and charitable solicitation fraud very seriously and will prosecute to the full extent of the law," Zimmer said in a news release.
A spokesman for Zimmer's office said no reports of gouging had come in as of early Monday afternoon.
"We are hoping a public reminder of the rules on the issue will prevent the practice from occurring, and inform the public of the issue so they can recognize and report any potential violations," spokesman Joseph A. Kinzel wrote in an email.