CORONA, Calif. — When a Corona resident heard about the coronavirus in late February, he started preparing with some basic supplies.
“I bought the N95 mask because I wanted to be prepared for this virus that is coming,” Josh Hill said.
He visited a local Lowe’s Home Improvement store, but it was sold out of N95 masks so he went online and found a store called EM General.
“I Googled N95 masks and it was the first site that popped up,” Hill said.
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Hill said the website looked a “little sketchy,” but he ignored his gut feeling and bought one N95 mask for $24. He never received a shipping confirmation, so after placing the order, Hill reached out to the company several times through email. Hill said 3.5 weeks passed and his mask had not arrived, but he did finally receive a tracking number.
“I went and I tried to track that shipping number, but it says the receiver is somewhere in Malaysia, so I’m guessing it’s a fictitious tracking number,” Hill said.
He filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau which has a dozen complaints about EM General and gives the company an “F” rating. Hill is not alone as many people have been taken advantage of during the coronavirus outbreak, some in the form of price gouging.
It's an issue Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and his team are investigating. They recently went shopping on Amazon and found two one-liter bottles of hand sanitizer selling for $149.
Feuer said he reached out to Amazon about price gouging on its retail site.
“They are going to identify for us the third-party sellers who offered these items on their platform. And second, Amazon will tell us what the cost was of these items the day before the emergency. That’s important because under California law, a seller can’t offer an item for more than 10 percent more than it was offered the day before an emergency,” warned Feuer.
The L.A. City Attorney is also going after eBay for price gouging. Feuer said penalties can include jail time and a fine of up to $10,000.
As for Hill, he’s disappointed he didn’t receive his mask and he’s disheartened by his fellow humans.
“Everybody is not looking out for each other right now, they are looking out for themselves – some people – so you just have to be careful what you are buying right now,” said Hill.
To avoid price gouging, plan ahead and keep necessary supplies on hand at all times, advises the Better Business Bureau. If you do see price gouging, you can report it to the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org and the L.A. City Attorney's Office.