In L.A., coronavirus scammers and price gougers prey on fear. Prosecutors vow crackdown

Hand sanitizer shelves are empty at a Pavilions supermarket in South Pasadena
Hand sanitizer shelves are empty at a Pavilions supermarket in South Pasadena on Wednesday.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County and city officials said Friday they are cracking down on fraud related to the coronavirus outbreak.

L.A. County District Atty. Jackie Lacey and L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer announced a joint task force Friday, saying they are already seeing evidence of people pushing illegal and dangerous schemes related to the virus.

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


He said the city attorney 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.”

He cited one case in which a company was selling vitamins it falsely claimed could prevent children from getting coronavirus.

“As prosecutors, we see first-hand how consumer fraud can infringe on our sense of security, shatter our trust and endanger our well-being,” 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.”

Los Angeles County health officials confirmed three new cases, two of which had an unidentified source of exposure, suggesting that the virus is actively spreading in the community.

Over the past week, county leaders have stressed the importance of personal responsibility as coronavirus is believed to be active throughout Los Angeles County, which has 32 confirmed cases.

California officials are calling for the cancellation of all gatherings with 250 or more people to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The state has recorded 198 cases of the new coronavirus as of Thursday, up from 177 the day before.


Meanwhile, the United States has surpassed 1,300 coronavirus cases, with most in Washington state, New York and California.