SANTA BARBARA CO., CA – Law enforcement is warning those in the fire areas to be on the lookout for criminals attempting to profit from the Thomas Fire. Reports of looting have surfaced, but authorities are also warning the public to be wary of price gougers, and fraudulent contractors and charitable organizations.
Santa Barbara County Undersheriff Bernard Melekian said that no business, once an emergency is declared, can raise prices more than 10 percent. This statute applies to hotels/motels, consumer food items, goods or services used for emergency cleanup, emergency supplies, medical supplies, home heating oil, contractor’s services, building materials, housing, transportation, freight, storage services, gasoline, and other motor fuels.
Santa Barbara DA, Joyce Dudley, wrote in a statement that price gouging is punishable one year in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000, adding, for those who want to help law enforcement only to give money to reputable organizations to avoid fraudulent charities.
The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office first warned of price gouging in the days immediately after the ignition of the Thomas Fire, now the fourth-largest blaze in California’s recorded history.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Rafelson said Tuesday that the District Attorney’s Office has received several complaints about price gouging for housing and gas, and scammers posing as insurance agents, but investigators have yet to substantiate any. A phone line is devoted to handling calls about gouging at 805-662-1728.
Last week, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office took to social media to also advise residents of these schemes. Like the District Attorney’s Office, the law enforcement agency recommended only using a state-licensed contractor. A resident can do that by checking the license through the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs website at www.cslb.ca.gov/.