Money Monday: Are You Being Cheated at the Supermarket?

BY: - 25 Mar '13 | Money

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Everyone is trying to take our money, from credit card companies to cable providers. But did you know your local grocery store could be cheating you every time you pay for groceries?

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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  • SimpleighOrganized

    My grocery store offers a handheld scanner for shoppers to use. I use it to check the price of each item I place in my cart. If the price scans incorrectly with the scanner or at the register, the item is free. I have received MANY free items because of this policy. Sometimes the cashier will just try to correct the price until I remind them of the “free” policy. :)

  • Alonzo Peters

    Great to see people actually taking advantage of the free item policies. You’re absolutely right though. Often you have to actually remind the cashier about the store’s policy.

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  • seiko lk

    ??? ?? ?????

  • Funwith101

    I brought a three lb bag of pumpkin in VH market in Memphis TN.I ended up weighing the product of Pumpkin that I purchased and what was on the bags weight was different then what I actually paid for. It was only 2 lb actually weight but labeled 3 lb.