Law enforcement wants to know if you’ve seen price gouging in Long Beach during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they’re vowing to quickly investigate each complaint to make sure shoppers aren’t being ripped off.

To that end, the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s office launched a website this week where consumers can report price gouging. They’ve already gotten complaints about certain grocery stores from major chains overcharging for milk, toilet paper and water, according to officials.

To make sure they have the resources to look into each complaint and swiftly stop any gouging, the city prosecutor’s office has teamed up with its counterparts in the city of Los Angeles and the LA County District Attorney’s office, which both already had teams dedicated to consumer issues.

“We don’t want to wait until after the emergency to investigate this type of conduct,” Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said.

Not every sudden spike in prices during the pandemic is gouging.

To be a crime, the increase has to be more than 10% compared to what the same product at the same store was selling for before the state, local or federal government declared an emergency. In addition, it’s OK for retailers to raise their prices more than 10% if their own costs to buy the product rise by a similar amount.

But if a store runs afoul of those rules, it can trigger misdemeanor charges that carry a penalty of a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. On top of that, prosecutors can pursue civil or business penalties.

“Not every instance where prices appear to spike is going to be a violation of the law, but every instance will be looked into by my officer or one of our partner agencies to determine if it’s a violation and follow up with enforcement if it is appropriate,” Haubert said, thanking LA City and LA County prosecutors for their help.

To report price gouging in Long Beach you can go straight to the website set up by the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s office. It’s the first time Haubert’s office has taken reports of criminal conduct directly from the public instead of first working through the police department or other means, according to authorities.

Jeremiah Dobruck is managing editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @jeremiahdobruck on Twitter.