Price Gouging is a Crime During State of Emergency

The wildfires throughout California and San Diego County have left many people without homes or required to evacuate their properties. In the wake of these wildfires, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today issued a warning to businesses and scammers not to take advantage of consumers by price gouging during a state of an emergency – doing so can end in prosecution. During a declared state of emergency, it is illegal for a business to increase its prices for essential goods or services by more than 10 percent, unless they can show their own costs have been increased. Gov. Edmund G. Brown declared the state of emergency on December 7. [INFO EN ESPAÑOL]

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“Price gouging during a state of an emergency is not only a crime, it is re-victimizing victims who may have lost everything in a wildfire,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Natural disasters are already devastating, so when businesses and scammers exploit consumers when they are vulnerable, law enforcement will not tolerate it.”

It is against the law to spike prices on:

  • Food
  • Goods or services used for emergency cleanup
  • Medical supplies
  • Home heating oil
  • Building materials
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Gasoline

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In addition, it is a misdemeanor for a hotel or motel to increase regular rates by more than 10 percent during a declared emergency and for the 30 days following the state of emergency.

Looting:

During a state of emergency, looting is a felony (2nd degree burglary) with a penalty of up to three years in state prison.

Avoid contractor scams:

Anyone should be extremely cautious if approached by aggressive agents, adjusters or contractors after a disaster. Most businesses are honest and have good intentions, but there are always bad actors waiting to take advantage of disaster victims. Working as an unlicensed contractor during a state of emergency is a felony. Keep these tips in mind when selecting a contractor:

  • Ask for proof of licensing such as a pocket license and a second photo ID.
  • Always verify that the license number matches the contractor you are dealing with.
  • Beware of scare tactics, odd calls or unsolicited contacts.
  • Make sure the contractor carries workers’ compensation and liability insurance.

Avoid debris-clearing scams:

In the aftermath of natural disasters, debris-clearing scams often surface. Do not provide payment upfront and be sure to ask where the debris is being taken. Scammers often ask for money up-front and then disappear. Sometimes they dump debris on a neighbor’s property or park, which may cause you to be responsible for the costs and penalties.

Avoid charity scams:

During a disaster we hear many pleas for donations but we have to beware of charity scams as well. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Bogus charities have names that sound similar to real charities.
  • Give to charities you are familiar with.
  • Beware of telephone solicitors who are unwilling to give their name and call back number.
  • Never give money to anyone sent to your home.
  • Never give out personal information such as credit card numbers or social security numbers over the telephone, unless you clearly know who you are doing business with.

The District Attorney’s Office has historically played a role in incidents of wildfires, including the San Diego County wildfires of 2003, 2007 and 2014. During those events, investigators from the District Attorney’s Office, the California Department of Insurance, the Contractors State License Board, and the Department of Motor Vehicles fanned out over fire-ravaged areas to warn homeowners to beware of would-be criminals who prey on victims of natural disasters. They posted signs warning unlicensed contractors that operating in a declared state of emergency area is a felony.

You can report suspected price gouging to the District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit at (619) 531-3507, or:

California Department of Insurance

10021 Willow Creek Road, #100

San Diego, CA 92131

Helpline 1-800-927-HELP (4357)

Contractors State License Board

9246 Lightwave Avenue, Suite 130

San Diego, CA 92123

www.clsb.ca.gov

1-800-321-2752

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http://bit.ly/2iVf9C9

Victims of Las Vegas Mass Shooting Get Help from San Diego’s DA

The Las Vegas mass shooting undoubtedly left many victims in need of help and a variety of services to help them cope and recover. In response to the shooting, San Diego County District Attorney victim advocates traveled to Las Vegas to help. [TWEET THIS]

Two victim advocates from the DA’s Office joined other victim advocates and agencies from across the state of California and Nevada at the Las Vegas Family Assistance Center, which was operated by the American Red Cross from October 1 through October 20.

The DA’s victim advocates were there for one week, working 12 hour shifts assisting family members and victims obtain services such as crisis intervention, needs assessment, and assistance with filing Victim Compensation Program applications for funeral/burial expenses, medical expenses, wage loss, and mental health counseling.

More than 4,000 victims were assisted during the time the center was operating.

San Diego County residents affected by the Las Vegas mass shooting may qualify for local victim services and resources, including help paying for expenses associated with loss and recovery.

Many San Diego-area residents were at the concert and are victims of this tragedy. Some have created GoFundMe accounts and may not realize that, even though the crime happened in Las Vegas, they may be entitled to receive help from the state of California.

District Attorney Summer Stephan explains in this video.

Learn more, here.

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[Pictured above, the two victim advocates who traveled to Las Vegas give presentation to the rest of the DA victim services team.]

Deputy DA Appointed to Superior Court Bench

Governor Jerry Brown announced Thursday morning the appointment of Deputy District Attorney James E. Simmons to the Superior Court bench to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge David M. Szumowski. [TWEET THIS]

Simmons has served as a Deputy DA in our office since 2006 working in the North County Branch, Juvenile Division, Superior Court Division and most recently in the Gangs Division where he distinguished himself as a strong trial attorney handling some of the most difficult cases.  Prior to joining our office, James served as a Deputy City Attorney at the San Diego City Attorney’s Office from 2005 to 2006.

“While we will miss his legal expertise, his commitment to justice and his exceptional professionalism, our office’s loss is absolutely a gain for the bench in San Diego County,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan.

Simmons also volunteered his time to Project LEAD, mentoring 5th graders to help them develop leadership skills and make good choices when faced with peer pressure.

Simmons earned a Juris Doctor degree from the Golden Gate University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley. [TWEET THIS]

Important Tips in Wake of Equifax Hack

Important Tips in Wake of Equifax Hack

District Attorney Summer Stephan warned consumers today to consider taking steps to protect their personal identifying information in the wake of a recent data breach at one of the large credit bureaus in the United States, Equifax. [TWEET THIS]

Cybercriminals stole 143 million credit records in the recent hacking scandal at the big-three credit bureau.

“At this point millions of consumers have to assume that the bad guys have highly personal information that they can use to trick you,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “Our ‘CATCH’ team has posted advice for consumers online and I encourage San Diego County residents to consider taking steps to protect themselves.”

Experts say to watch out for the following:

  • Phishing (phony) emails that claim to be from Equifax where you can check if your data was compromised.
  • Phishing emails that claim there is a problem with a credit card, your credit record, or other personal financial information.
  • Calls from scammers that claim they are from your bank or credit union.
  • Fraudulent charges on any credit card because your identity was stolen.
  • Don’t give out personal information.

Here are five things you can do to prevent identity theft: [TWEET THIS]

  1. Sign up for credit monitoring (there are many companies providing that service including Equifax, but be sure to read the Terms of Agreement carefully and note if there are any set-up or recurring costs associated with the monitoring.)
  2. Place a fraud alert with one of the major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
  3. Placing a fraud alert is free and stays on your credit report for 90 days. Check your credit reports for free at www.annualcreditreport.com
  4. Check your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized activity.
  5. If you believe you may have been the victim of identity theft, here are two sites where you can learn more about how to protect yourself: http://www.idtheftcenter.org and www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

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Desafortunadamente, vivimos en un mundo en el cual este tipo de filtración de datos continua ocurriendo. Cuando esto ocurre, consumidores deben considerar tomar pasos para proteger su información personal.

Criminales cibernéticos ya se robaron 143 millones de registros de crédito en el reciente incidente de Equifax, lo cual indica que millones de consumidores deben asumir que los criminales tienen información muy personal que pueden usar en su contra.

La oficina de la Fiscalía le recomienda al público tomar medidas para protegerse.

Nuestro Equipo de Respuesta en Crímenes de Informática y Alta Tecnología, conocido como CATCH, ya publicó consejos en su pagina Web, y recomienda estar al tanto de lo siguiente:

  • Si reciben un correo electrónico que parece ser de parte de Equifax, podría ser un fraude electrónico buscando obtener más datos personales.
  • Correos electrónicos fraudulentos podrían decir que hay un problema con su tarjeta de crédito, su registro de crédito, o alguna otra información financiera.
  • Llamadas telefónicas de estafadores que aseguran ser de su banco o institución financiera.
  • Cualquier cargo fraudulento a sus tarjetas de crédito.
  • No dé su información personal.

Cinco cosas que puede hacer para prevenir robo de identidad:

  1. Suscríbase para monitorear su crédito (hay  muchas compañías que ofrecen el servicio, incluyendo Equifax, pero asegúrese de leer los términos del contrato ya que pueden cobrarle por el servicio)
  2. Ponga una alerta de fraude a través de una de las compañías de crédito como Equifax, Experian y TransUnion. Una alerta de fraude es gratis y permanece en su reporte de crédito por 90 días.
  3. Revise su reporte de crédito gratis en www.annualcreditreport.com
  4. Revise su estado de cuenta del banco y tarjetas de crédito para monitorear actividad no autorizada.
  5. Visite estas páginas de internet para aprender más sobre cómo protegerse: www.idtheftcenter.org y www.ftc.gov/idtheft
Avoiding Hurricane Harvey Charity Scams

Avoiding Hurricane Harvey Charity Scams

The San Diego County District Attorney’s office sent out an alert today to warn San Diego County residents to be careful when donating to charities that promise to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The DA’s Office is offering important consumer advice and information to avoid becoming a victim of charity scams. [TWEET THIS]

“We have such a caring community in San Diego County that wants to help those in need during a crisis, like this latest natural disaster that’s taking such a toll in Texas and Louisiana,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Unfortunately, some people use times of crisis to take advantage of others. People who want to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey by donating to charities can protect themselves from scammers by watching out for red flags.”

When donating, it’s a best practice not to respond to any solicitation. Instead, if you are inclined to help – donate on your own to a known charity or help group that is known to assist in these types of events. If the solicitor persuades you to donate, don’t commit at that moment; check them out, first – then donate. Acting based upon a cold call is never wise.

Always do your research to avoid becoming a victim of a charity scam. The Federal Trade Commission has published important tips and information on how to do that, including a link to Charity Navigator, which has a list of organizations that are responding in the aftermath of the storm.

The FTC provides the following charity checklist of precautions to make sure your donation benefits the people and organizations you want to help:

  • Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
  • Get the exact name of the organization and do some research. Searching the name of the organization online – especially with the word “complaint(s)” or “scam”– is one way to learn about its reputation.
  • Call the charity. Find out if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help you.
  • Find out if the charity or fundraiser must be registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials.
  • Check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, orGuideStar.
  • Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser. If so, ask:
    • The name of the charity they represent
    • The percentage of your donation that will go to the charity
    • How much will go to the actual cause to which you’re donating
    • How much will go to the fundraiser
  • Keep a record of your donations.
  • Make an annual donation plan. That way, you can decide which causes to support and which reputable charities should receive your donations.
  • Visit this Internal Revenue Service (IRS) webpage to find out which organizations are eligible to receive tax deductible contributions.
  • Never send cash donations. For security and tax purposes, it’s best to pay by check – made payable to the charity – or by credit card.
  • Never wire money to someone claiming to be a charity. Scammers often request donations to be wired because wiring money is like sending cash: once you send it, you can’t get it back.
  • Do not provide your credit or check card number, bank account number or any personal information until you’ve thoroughly researched the charity.
  • Be wary of charities that spring up too suddenly in response to current events and natural disasters. Even if they are legitimate, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people.
  • If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help your local community (for example, local police or firefighters), ask the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support.
  • What about texting? If you text to donate, the charge will show up on your mobile phone bill. If you’ve asked your mobile phone provider to block premium text messages – texts that cost extra – then you won’t be able to donate this way.

The National Do Not Call Registry gives you a way to reduce telemarketing calls, but it exempts charities and political groups. However, if a fundraiser is calling on behalf of a charity, you may ask not to get any more calls from, or on behalf of, that specific charity. If those calls continue, the fundraiser may be subject to a fine.

If you think you’ve been the victim of a charity scam or if a fundraiser has violated Do Not Call rules,file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Your complaints can help detect patterns of wrong-doing and lead to investigations and prosecutions.

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Sentencing Highlights Rise in Overdose Deaths

Sentencing Highlights Rise in Overdose Deaths

A man who sold heroin to a San Diego woman, leading to her fatal overdose, was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in local prison. [TWEET THIS]

Marc Gressingh, 36, pleaded guilty on June 13, 2017, to selling heroin and a prior conviction for narcotics sales. A judge split the eight year sentence into one year of custody and seven years of mandatory supervision.

The sentencing comes as more people are dying each year in San Diego County from accidental overdose or substance abuse intoxication of opioids, part of a national epidemic.

Deaths in the County from opioid abuse have roughly doubled in the last 15 years.

“An addiction to prescription drug opiates often leads people to begin abusing heroin, which is cheaper and easier to find,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “We’re responding to the opioid addiction crisis that is claiming the very lives of so many in our community and stealing the promise of their future by combating this issue on multiple fronts.”

[RELATED: The DA’s Office is taking a closer look at the fatal prescription drug abuse epidemic and what’s being done to fight it, in a series of short videos.]

Today’s sentencing is the culmination of a criminal case that began the morning of March 11, 2016. The San Diego Police Department responded to a reported death at a residence in San Diego. Paramedics on scene tried to revive the victim, Rebecca Mercurio, 31, however their efforts were unsuccessful and Ms. Mercurio died as a result of a heroin overdose. Based on initials reports that Ms. Mercurio had purchased the heroin in the East County area, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department took over the investigation into her death. After an extensive and lengthy investigation, Sheriff’s Department Det. Jacob Sanchez was able to determine the defendant had sold Ms. Mercurio the lethal heroin at a taco shop in East County on the night of March 10, 2016.

“Prosecutions like this send the message that when you sell heroin to another human being, you are literally providing them with toxic poison that can slow their breathing to the point of death. We also focus on prevention through education and on providing important programs that work to get defendants who have substance abuse issues help through Collaborative Court programs like Drug Court, Behavioral Health Court and Veterans Court,” DA Stephan said.

According to the San Diego County Medical Examiner, the increase in heroin deaths seen since 2005/2006 has continued, and heroin was the most common drug seen in those between the ages of 20 and 29 over the past five years. In 2015, 90 people died of heroin doses in San Diego County. [TWEET THIS]

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there is help and resources at www.sandiegorxabusetaskforce.org.

$6 Million Grant to Help Prop. 47 Offenders

DA Stephan is Working to Stop the Revolving Door to Prison

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced that a $6 million grant will go toward services and programs designed to keep individuals from recycling through the criminal justice system in San Diego County.

The three-year grant was announced at a meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday where DA Stephan explained how the District Attorney Office’s is involved in the grant-funded programs.[TWEET THIS]

“Within the justice system, we see people who commit non-violent theft and drug crimes triggered by their struggle with mental illness and chemical addiction,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan.  “This grant will help give them a second chance to recover and can lower recidivism, contributing to a safer community. Some offenders under Proposition 47 are repeatedly cycling through the justice system. These programs provide access to treatment and housing through collaboration with our justice and community partners and address the underlying causes of their criminal conduct.”

San Diego County Health and Human Services as well as the District Attorney’s CARE Center will link individuals to community programs and services under the grant. In addition to substance abuse treatment, the programs will link people to mental and physical health services and offer supportive services to meet their needs.  These could include job training, education, a peer coach, transportation or help with getting a government ID card.  Those with housing needs will receive a housing assessment and the help of a housing navigator.  The project will offer rapid rehousing, a service approach that has been demonstrated to work for this population.

In North County misdemeanor court, for example, a team – including prosecutors and defense attorneys –will identify people convicted of or facing sentences for drug or property crimes, for which substance abuse appears to be a related factor.

“These individuals will be offered an in person meeting with a service provider stationed just steps away from the courtroom,” DA Stephan said.  “They will not need to make an appointment or travel to another location.  If they are ready, help will be available right away.” [TWEET THIS]

The District Attorney’s CARE Center is also working to support the goals of the Proposition 47 grant program.  The CARE Center is a community hub for accessing services in Southeastern San Diego.  Learn more about the CARE Center in this video.