California Attorney General Xavier Becerra this week issued a consumer alert about deceptive advertising related to COVID-19 in California.
AG Becerra reminds all Californians to be mindful of any products or services that falsely claim to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, nor is there a medicine that treats or cures coronavirus.
“Do not be hustled by opportunistic tricksters claiming to have a miracle cure. There is not a cure for COVID-19,” said Becerra. “Californians should take preventative measures to stop further spread of coronavirus, such as washing their hands, refraining from touching their face, avoiding large groups, and staying at home as much as possible. I encourage anyone who has been the victim of a snake oil scam or who otherwise has information about products that are falsely touted as coronavirus treatments, tests, or cures to immediately file a complaint through my office’s website at oag.ca.gov/report.”
California’s consumer protection laws — including the Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law and Consumers Legal Remedies Act — prohibit false, deceptive, or misleading advertising, including any advertising that explicitly claims or implies that a product treats the coronavirus. A statement does not have to be literally false to be illegal; any claim that is likely to mislead a consumer may result in action by the Attorney General’s Office. Compliance with federal requirements or industry standards is not a defense to liability under California law.
In addition, Becerra reminds all Californians that, under Penal Code Section 396, price gouging is illegal in all California communities during the declared state of emergency. California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10%, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. This law applies to the prices of certain goods or services when a declared state of emergency results in disruptions of the market, including with respect to food, emergency and medical supplies, and other consumer goods. Exceptions to this prohibition exist if, for example, the price of labor, goods, or materials has increased for the business.
Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a one-year imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution. The Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute.
For the latest in coronavirus preparedness, information, and response, please visit the websites of the California Department of Public Health, Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, and Office of Emergency Services. If you are a worker or employer who has been affected by COVID-19, you can find guidance and resources on the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency’s website.