According to a report by ABC’s Good Morning America, consumers lose up to $2.5 billion dollars every year as a result of scanner errors. The most common problems involve scanners that are not programmed with the correct sales price information, scales that weigh and charge for the packaging in addition to the food, and stores that charge tax on non-taxable items.
In California, the state even took the unusual step of suing Safeway and its Vons stores for frequently overcharging customers. Similarly, in Los Angeles, Ralph’s Grocery Co. agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in civil penalties, costs and restitution to settle allegations that it overcharged customers on deli and other weighed food products.
In New York City, inspectors visiting 2000 city stores found price overcharges on one third of the products they tested. The problem was so bad that New York City Consumer Affairs commissioner Jonathan Mintz considered proposing legislation which would require grocery stores to pay customers 10 times the amount of the overcharged item.
Unfortunately, supermarket overcharges aren’t always insignificant. I, for instance, once purchased frozen dinners at a major Chicago grocery chain. The sale price was 5 for $10. Instead, I was charged full price on all five frozen meals, creating an overcharge of nearly $11 dollars.
With scanner errors being relatively common, there are a few ways to protect yourself. Keep a mental running account of your grocery tab as you shop. Better yet, bring along a calculator or smartphone to tally your total. If your tab doesn’t come close to the cashier’s result then you know you have a problem.
Alternatively, watch the checkout register like a hawk as your items are checked out. When in doubt, always check your receipt before you leave the store. Remember, many stores offer a “right at the register or it’s free” policy. If you catch an overcharge you get the item for free.
BMWK — Do you take the time to check your supermarket receipts? If you catch an error do you challenge it or let it slide?
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