Overcharge: What happens when your receipt doesn’t match? | The era of copper
Diane Sabo calls herself a “coupon queen”.
She runs two big errands a month, making sure to check every coupon and every sale. When shopping at her Southern Arizona Safeway, she uses the store’s app and website to get coupons.
But she began to notice that the prices on her receipts did not match the sale prices.
“The only reason this came to my attention was that one day something was on sale and I thought, ‘God, my bill was high,'” she said. “I looked and was charged $49 for meat that should have been $27.”
“I’m diligent with my coupons and when I spend $250 to $350 I usually end up saving 20% to 35%. But I was only saving 15%, which I initially blamed on inflation as things were more expensive.
Sabo said she was overcharged at two grocery stores in the Green Valley area – a problem that also exists in Safford.
“In both stores, they were initially like deer in headlights,” she said of management.
She said the last time she was queuing for reimbursement of her extra expenses, she started talking to people and found out there were others.
“They (management) were saying no one else had any issues, but online there were five of us waiting for refunds,” she said. “There was a young girl waiting in customer service for something that had two bags and I told her to check her receipts. She was overcharged by $6.
Sabo, who said she was overcharged by $4 to $45 per visit, isn’t the only one with inaccurate prices. She has posted twice on social media about her experiences and each thread has dozens of views and comments, most sharing similar stories.
The State Department of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures Division is responsible for inspecting retail businesses to ensure that scales and prices are accurate. They do not regulate non-retail industries such as restaurants or repair shops.
From January 2021 to present, the department has inspected four complaints at businesses in Safford and Thatcher, including several Speedways, Walmart and Safeway in Thatcher.
During that time, the division conducted nearly 3,000 price accuracy inspections statewide, including initial inspections, complaint-based inspections and re-inspections, according to the division’s associate director. , Kevin Allen.
Allen said price accuracy for retail outlets is the second highest complaint they receive, just after refueling complaints.
“Our ultimate goal is to ensure compliance and we work hard to prevent retailers from being hit with civil penalties,” he said. “The consumer should pay for what is advertised and should not be overcharged.”
Pricing Accuracy Division Managers take a random sample of sale items to see if the price is visibly displayed. The sample ranges from 125 products in smaller locations, such as convenience stores, to 250 in larger retail locations, such as grocery stores.
They also test a sample of products for their Universal Product Code (UPC) barcodes, to ensure that their pricing databases are correct.
They will randomly select 25 products for small stores and 50 for larger ones to ensure that the price listed matches the one being scanned.
Allen said retailers are required to correct any overloaded items within 30 minutes of inspection.
“If they don’t fix it, we can list an item for sale when the price isn’t right and they don’t fix it, but that rarely happens,” he said. “Most of the time they are diligent in correcting violations and we usually work with a store representative who can print new labels on the spot. So by the time we walk through the store, the violations are fixed.
Stores must receive a 98% compliance rate to pass price accuracy inspections. Businesses in violation are re-inspected within six days.
Allen said while most retailers work to remedy violations before civil penalties are incurred, they can become “substantial” if a company fails multiple re-inspections.
“If a location fails an inspection, we continue to do re-inspections until it passes,” he said. “Once they get to a third or fourth re-inspection, if it’s a business, we notify a higher level that it’s a retail compliance issue and education doesn’t does not work.”
Once a re-inspection fails, a business is charged $100 in civil penalties for each re-inspection.
Statewide, from January 2021 to present, there have been 445 civil penalties related to price accuracy, totaling $322,800.
Locally, four businesses received civil penalties: Walmart, the Speedway at 300 E. HWY 70, and Chaparral Station in Duncan. Walmart had to pay $800, Speedway on Highway 70 paid $300, and Chaparral Station paid $300.
If someone thinks they have been overcharged, they can file a complaint with the division online or by phone, and the complaint is reviewed within 10 days.
All four complaints inspected in the Safford area from January 2021 to present were deemed ‘inconclusive’, meaning the inspector did not witness the issues described in the complaint, but could not say that the complaint was not accurate.
On June 28, 2021, an inspector reviewed a complaint at Safeway to Thatcher. The complainant wrote that he always checked his receipts and was regularly wrongly billed. The buyer had a digital coupon for a box of eggs for 25 cents and said the charge was $4.98.
The inspector conducted a random price check of 50 items, including eggs and bread mentioned by the complainant. All items scanned correctly.
The other three complaints concerned service stations.
On August 9, 2021, an inspector examined the Speedway at 750 S. Eighth Ave. where there was a complaint that pump two “took five seconds to fill 1/100th of a gallon.” I have been here a long time.
The inspector tested the pump and found no violations. The manager told the inspector that “this location had a low amount of fuel in underground storage prior to recent deliveries, which may have impacted fuel distribution.”
The Speedway at 1780 W. Thatcher Boulevard was checked for a volume complaint on July 28, 2021. The complaint said they could not have received the amount of fuel displayed on the dispenser.
The inspector found no volume issues, but found that the pump 2 nozzle anti-drain function was not working properly. The pump has been taken out of service.
On August 23, 2021, Jobi Market was inspected based on a complaint that fuel volume was intentionally slowed down. The inspector found no volume issues.
Allen said companies whose devices are inspected, such as grocery store scales, are inspected about every three years. He said their inspectors do as many detail inspections at a time as they can in one trip.
“With limited human resources, we try to make the trip interesting so that we don’t go back several times,” he said.
They have three inspectors in Tucson who cover stores in parts of Pinal County up to the Mexican border, all of Pima County, and areas including Gila and Graham counties.
Among the random inspections in 2021 was the Walmart Supercenter in Safford.
On June 1, the inspector scanned 50 items and two of them sounded more expensive than expected. One item was overcharged by 50 cents and another by $1. Walmart was hit with a $200 penalty and achieved 96% compliance.
During the re-inspection on June 28, three items were overloaded and they obtained a compliance rate of 94%. They paid an additional $600 in civil penalties.
During the final re-inspection on July 28, one item was overloaded and they passed the inspection.
The Speedway on 300 HWY 70 was inspected for pricing on August 23, 2021. There were 25 items scanned and three were overcharged; one was undercharged, which doesn’t count against a company. They incurred a civil fine of $300.
Duncan Chaparral Station was inspected on July 6, 2021. The inspector found three issues: improper installation of fuel filters and filtering requirements on pump two/one, missing label requirements and “the registration in favor of the owner/operator”. They paid a $300 fine.
Check your receipts
Sabo said Safeway in the Green Valley area eventually told him that the overload issues were an IT problem with the app. Safeway’s media relations department did not respond to a phone call or email.
Sabo is on a mission to let others know.
“Now when I’m in the parking lot and people pull over, I tell them to look at their receipts,” she said. “Recently a woman had three items and I told her to check it out. She had tonic water that was on sale for $2.99 and she was charged $3.99.
She said that, like many others in the community, she is on a fixed income and relies on her efforts to save money.
“Not everyone lives in a nice house with a pool,” she said. “We have people here who live on limited incomes.”
Allen said most retailers want to be compliant and often handle thousands of products, but ultimately the consumer should get the right price.
“They have a lot of articles, sometimes they have thousands of articles every week and it’s a challenge to keep up,” he said. “Ultimately, the consumer has no control over the prices displayed and if they are not accurate, the business should be held responsible.”