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SHOPPERS OVERCHARGED BY SCANNERS, STUDY FINDS.

Byline: Karyn Hunt Associated Press

One out of 25 transactions at department store and supermarket checkout scanners results in overcharges, costing California consumers at least $250 million last year alone, according to a report released Thursday.

The study, titled ``Scanners or Scammers'' by the California Public Interest Research Group, found that automatic price scanners rang up amounts that were too high 4.1 percent of the time while registering undercharges 1.6 percent of the time.

The group called for legislation requiring more frequent checks on the computer-coded machines - to be paid for by the stores - as well as penalties if scanners are found to be less than 98 percent accurate.

CalPIRG members also warned consumers to inspect their receipts carefully.

``California needs to know that the price is not always right,'' said Angie Farleigh of CalPIRG. ``Every single day, thousands of consumers are being scammed by scanners and don't even know it.''

In most cases of errors, prices were not coded in properly. That was especially prevalent with sale items, where the computers have to be reprogrammed for lower prices during certain dates and times of day.

In other cases, checkout clerks scanned the same item over the screen more than once, Farleigh said.

The data was based on investigations resulting from consumer complaints, rather than a methodical inspection by either CalPIRG or government agencies.

Representatives for Lucky, Vons and several other stores could not be reached for comment Thursday. But other members of the retail industry criticized the report, saying scanners make fewer mistakes than clerks working by hand.

``CalPIRG is basically supporting a political agenda,'' said Pamela Williams, vice president of the California Retailers Association.

Safeway spokeswoman Debra Lambert called the study ``deceptive,'' saying it overstates the problem. She added that her company does everything it can to ensure pricing accuracy.

``With 200 stores in Northern California, hundreds of millions of transactions over a two-year period and 373 investigations, we were cited for only 11 violations,'' Lambert said. ``That is truly statistically insignificant.''

Consumers were not so forgiving.

``That's terrible that they would rob the consumer in that way,'' said Monica Harris, a 33-year-old dental assistant who shopped at Safeway on Thursday.

``It seems unacceptable that the level of mistakes is that high,'' said another woman, Deborah, who shopped there that day. She did not want her last name used.

Californians aren't only leaving millions behind at the counter, they're paying for the problem with tax dollars, too, because they foot the bill for investigations into complaints of overcharges. The largest 10 counties spent $335,000 between 1995 and 1997 to investigate scanner overcharges against 300 major retailers, CalPIRG representatives said.
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 31, 1997
Words:444
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