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Group: California check-out scanners overcharge

Scanner October 30, 1997
Web posted at: 11:47 p.m. EST (0447 GMT)

From Correspondent Don Knapp

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- A consumer group claims check-out price scanners overcharge California shoppers by millions of dollars a year -- the same scanners that are used in stores nationwide.

The California Public Interest Research Group, or CALPIRG, says state figures show that 2.2 percent of all items that go through the scanners are overcharged.

"Even if you subtract the 1.5 percent of all items that are undercharged, that still leaves $250 million that cost the consumers last year in overcharges," says Angie Farleigh of CALPIRG.

CNN's Don Knapp reports
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The group claims that figures in some California counties show that scanners overcharge as many as one in every 25 items.

Retailers were quick to dispute the study.

"The only thing correct about CALPIRG's study is that human errors occur. And nobody can stop human errors," said Bill Dombrowski, president of the California Retailers Association.

Dombrowski says scanner accuracy averages about 98 percent, and he believes that is about as close to perfect as retailers can get. Most stores will refund any overcharges, and some even offer a bonus to customers who find them.

"Yes, there are errors, but they are a very small percentage," said Peter Larkin, president of the California Grocers Association. "And the systems are set up so that there is a higher likelihood of a consumer being undercharged than they are overcharged."

CALPIRG says that while there have been cases of deliberate scanner scams by retailers, the real problems are human error and lack of regular government inspections of the equipment.

The man charged with regulating scanners in San Francisco agrees.

"We're doing it on a complaint basis only. Currently the program is not funded," said David Frieders, San Francisco's director of weights and measures. "There's no funding at the local level to enforce the program."


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