Consumer Tips

Stefan P. Parnay, Agriculture, Weights and Measures - Marin County

“Trust, but verify” should be the motto of every consumer. Most businesses are honest, but even honest people make mistakes. Neglect, indifference, and fraud are all present in the marketplace too. Alert consumers are the best defense against inaccurate transactions. The following list provides some consumer tips to help ensure you are paying the correct price and “Protecting your Pocket Book”.

  • By law, you are required to receive the lowest advertised or posted price for items. If you see an item on a shelf for $2.99, but the price is $3.49 when you check out, you have a right to the shelf price of $2.99. Speak up and tell the checker the shelf price was $2.99. They must honor that price. If not, call our complaint line at (415) 473-7888 and we will investigate.


  • Bring sale advertisements with you when shopping. When selecting items from the store display, make a note of the price and verify that it is the same when the item is scanned. Some stores have scanners for customer price verification located on the sales floor, use them. Department stores often give additional markdowns at the register. Be sure to point out sale items to the clerk. Be aware of the expiration dates for sales.


  • Many stores display the price per unit on the shelf tag. Compare them when choosing between sizes and brands. A quart (32 ounces) of mayonnaise for $2.29 (~$.07 per ounce) buys more than paying $1.59 for a pint (16 ounces) of the same brand ($.10 per ounce). Do the same thing when stores offer 2 for the price of 1 sales; a single larger size may cost less.


  • When buying gasoline or diesel, look at the register on the fuel pump. It should start on zero. If it advances before you squeeze the nozzle, there could be an internal leak. If you buy different brands, look at the grade selector each time; 87, 89, and 91 octane may appear in any order. Check your receipt, it should accurately document the transaction; Brand, grade, pump number, price per gallon, gallons dispensed, total cost, date and time. Modern vapor recovery systems are much improved over previous models and they rarely cause fuel recycling.


  • Gasoline formulas change during the year to comply with clean air requirements. Fuel quality is regularly monitored, but there have been cases of adulterated products. If your car runs worse after fueling, contact our department immediately. We can detect water contamination quickly, and if the product is contaminated we will close the pump down. For other quality problems we will have a sample analyzed by the state petroleum laboratory. Buy fuel from a station that appears to maintain their equipment. Buy when your tank is 1/3 full, keep your vehicle tuned, and change air and fuel filters annually.


  • Checkstand scales must be visible to the consumer. When checking out be sure the scale is properly set to zero. If it is not, point it out to the checker. A scale set ahead of zero shortchanges every consumer.


  • Many scales are built into the checkstand and get a lot of use. Look at the edge of the scale; be sure it is not rubbing against the checkstand as this will cause the scale to be inaccurate.


  • Watch as items are weighed. A deduction must be taken for the packaging. Some scales deduct this tare automatically. On some store packed meat and deli items the amount of weight deducted for the packaging is shown on the label as “Tare: ___lbs”.


  • You don't always get what you pay for. California was over-ruled by federal courts supporting USDA and FDA regulations allowing moisture loss for a wide variety of commodities. The amount that commodities can be less than their labeled contents range from 1% to 3%. Our inspectors still test all commodities and consider reasonable moisture loss for USDA and FDA regulated products.


  • The Public Utilities Commission sets utility rates. There are different rates for different circumstances such as all electric heating, doctors' prescribed health maintenance requirement, low income, and time-of-use meters. Bills should indicate the correct rate code, the zone code, the number of days in the billing cycle, beginning and ending meter readings and reading dates, the baseline and over-baseline amounts, the charges of each, any adjustments for rebates or surcharges, and the total billing charge. Weights & Measures seals electric, gas, and water utility meters when PG & E or other utility does not provide direct service.


  • Weights & Measures is one agency of many that investigates consumer complaints. Check other listings for agencies dealing with specific issues such as the consumer protection branch of the District Attorney’s office.