Don’t get ripped off this holiday season

'Bermuda Triangle of Price Overcharging' at Westfield North County mall, Escondido/Grapevine

(Editor’s Note: Every year officials from the San Diego County Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures inspect thousands of stores to ensure price accuracy at the checkout counter.

Inspectors have discovered the vast majority of those errors were in the store’s favor.

Of the 5,230 inspections by the county’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures, nearly 20 percent showed price-scanning errors, according to county data. Inspectors rang up 80,302 items during the inspections, and found that there were $9.32 in overcharges for every $1 in undercharges.

Stores are fined for these errors, depending on the percentage of overcharged items, the total amount of overcharges, or the overcharge on any one item. The fines ranges from $100 to $3,700 per inspection.)

Let the shopping — and receipt-checking — begin!

Black Friday and the holiday season mean the shopping-est time of the year is back. The County wants to remind shoppers to double-check all receipts to protect themselves from being overcharged by faulty cash register price scanners.

It can definitely happen. Every year, the County’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures inspects thousands of local businesses, checking price-scanning devices, scales that charge items by weight, and the other equipment that set prices, to make sure they are charging customers accurately.

Last year, one out of every eight businesses inspected, 12.5 percent, had overcharging errors and the average overcharge was $2.28. By itself, that’s not much — about enough to buy a cup of coffee, a box of pasta or a bag of chicken-flavor, chew-stick ferret treats.

But add a few overcharges up and you can be talking some real cash!

So remember to double-check your receipts. And read these other tips to you help shop smart and safely this holiday season.

Protect Against Overcharging:

  • Always verify receipts and immediately notify store management of any price discrepancies.
  • Stores are required to display the price of an item, as you are buying it,  before the transaction is complete. Watch the display screen as your items are scanned.
  • Take sales advertisements with you when shopping to verify prices.
  • Know that stores cannot legally charge more than their lowest advertised, posted or quoted price.

Shop Smart:

  • Plan ahead. Start watching for store sale fliers, flea markets, garage sales, clearance sales, etc.
  • Make a list of what you need.
  • Comparison shop with at least five different sources for the best values.
  • Don’t buy everything at once. Establish a spending plan and timetable to buy what you need over several weeks or months to take full advantage of future sales and true bargains.
  • Call Agriculture, Weights and Measures at 1-888-TRUE SCAN (1-888-878-3722) or email to to report overcharges you can’t resolve with store.

The county also has an app available for download on iPhone and Android, or on the county’s website here. The program allows consumers to report overcharges while still in the store and track the county’s response to the complaint later.

For more information, go to Agriculture, Weights and Measure’s Consumer Protection webpage and check out this video about the scanner inspection program.

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