Bay Area cracking down on price gouging amid COVID-19 crisis

The Alameda County Sheriff's Office is investigating several complaints of price gouging on some high demand products. 

Some stores are charging customers as much as $8 for a bottle of hand sanitizer and $10 apiece for N95 masks. 

The ugly face of price gouging rears its head in every disaster, including pandemic pickpocketing.

Viewers have sent KTVU photos of items priced relatively higher than what the seller paid for them. And amid the COVID-19 crisis, desperate consumers have often paid the asking price. 

Related: N95 masks selling for $10 apiece at Emeryville gas station

According to the California Department of Justice, illegal price gouging occurs when any seller tries to take unfair advantage of consumers after the president, governor, city or county executive officer officially declares a state of emergency. Raising the price of essential consumer goods or services more than 10% is considered price gouging. 

A spokesman for the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office, Scott Alonso said the department has received 17 reports of price gouging so far. 

Gougers can be businesses or people selling at any level, from manufacturers to distributors, from wholesalers to retailers. 

"So we want folks to communicate with us and work with us to see if we can lend a hand to determine if actual gouging is occurring and if folks are raising their prices 10% before the non-emergency price," said Alonso.

Some, but not all, protected essentials include housing, food and drink, fuel, and transportation services. 

Essentials also include traditional emergency supplies such as flashlights, radios, and radios. 

There are consequences for gouging. 

"Significant consequences if they do this and they could face significant fines and or criminal penalties," said Alonso. Specifically, violators are subject to civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution carrying up to a year in county jail and a $10,000 fine. 

 "So we want to hear from people. We want them to document it and we want them to provide evidence as best they can if they suspect there's any illegal gouging going on," said Alonso.