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Holiday buyers urged to beware to protect against overcharges

Illustration of a holiday gift with a dollar signAs the holidays approach, shoppers scan advertisements, make lists, and hunt down the best bargains. There’s lots to shop for this time of year, and a variety of seemingly great deals. However, this is also a time for caveat emptor – buyer beware.  Eggnog that is advertised for $1.69 may be a bargain, but not if the store sold it for the regular price of $2.99.  Whether the error is intentional or due to negligence by the retailer, it’s all the same to the shopper; he or she
was overcharged.

Overcharges can happen any time, but the likelihood may be greater during the holiday season. Inexperienced temporary help and more sale prices can lead to increased incidents of overcharging.  Most retailers know that it’s important to have accurate prices; it’s the law and maintains customer confidence.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, Division of Measurement Standards’ (DMS) primary mission is to ensure fair competition for businesses, accurate measurements for consumers and true representations of pricing and products for commercial transactions. If someone is overcharged, we want to know about it.

So how do you know if you’re charged the right price? Start by paying attention to the prices you see and determine what the lowest price is. Retailers are required to display prices to a consumer as they are scanned and added up.  Watch the prices and if you believe you have been overcharged, speak up.  The cashier may make an adjustment on the spot, or call for a price check.  You have the right to be charged the correct price.

How do you know what the right price is?  What if a sign says “2/$2.00”?  What if  the sign says “2/$2.00, 1 at regular price”?  State law says that any requirements that a buyer needs to meet to get the sale price need to be conspicuously posted.  In the first example, the sign doesn’t tell a buyer for sure whether they have to buy two or not, which can lead to confusion.

If you are made to pay more than the lowest posted, quoted, or advertised price, it’s a crime under California law.  DMS reminds shoppers to check their store receipts for overcharges.  If you are overcharged and can’t resolve it with the retailer, please  contact either DMS at 916-229-3000 to file a complaint or call your county’s Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer’s office.   A list of county contact information and other consumer information can be found at our website,

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One Response to Holiday buyers urged to beware to protect against overcharges

  1. jeroen says:

    I have noticed at grocery stores it will say things like “4 for $10”, and I used to think you had to buy all 4 to get the sale price. However, once I bought just one, I noticed I still got it for $2.50. I guess they aren’t breaking the law, but to me that’s just weird advertising. I think they’d sell more if they just posted the $2.50 sale price instead, right?

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