San Rafael, CA – Marin County has seen large increases in trade and commerce violations, including a 161 percent increase in cases of customers being overcharged for goods and a 59 percent increase in violations issued to businesses. On the flip side, cases of customers being undercharged doubled over the past year.
Johanna Good checks the price of a product during an inspection at a local grocery store.
Those were some of the findings in the new Marin County Consumer Protection Report
, presented March 12 to the Marin County Board of Supervisors. The 2018 report was created by the Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures
, headed by Commissioner Stacy Carlsen.
Although Carlsen’s weights and measures staff is comprised of only 3.4 full-time positions, employees spent 6,616 hours serving the public’s interest by ensuring accuracy and equity in the marketplace and protecting the health and welfare of Marin residents. Staff performed 11,530 inspections – up from 9,100 the previous year – to ensure accuracy of measuring devices and checking the prices charged to consumers.
As it inspected 459 businesses over the course of the year, the department staff issued 204 notices of violation, a 59 percent increase from the 128 notices in 2017. There were 113 the previous year. Overall, 83 percent of businesses complied with price checks on initial inspection, avoiding continuous follow-up inspections.
The most common violations were of equipment (such as scales and gasoline dispensers) not being maintained as accurate, stores overcharging customers, and customers not being able to see the price or weight of an object they were buying.
There were 267 cases of customers being overcharged, up from 102 in 2017 and 71 in 2016. Also, cases of customers being undercharged went from 63 in 2016 to 81 in 2017 to 192 in 2018. With weights and measures staff increasing 25 percent from 2.7 full-time equivalents (FTE) in 2017 to 3.4 FTE in 2018, the department has enhanced capacity for inspections and for conducting investigations based on consumer complaints and inquiries.
Carlsen said there is a great emphasis on education leading to compliance rather than enforcement or penalties. Before doing inspections with new businesses, the department contacts them to make sure requirements and expectations are clear.
“One tip we pass along to businesses is for them to conduct an internal price check on merchandise when promotional offers begin or end,” Carlsen said. “Having that practice in place for publicized sales is probably the best way to self-enforce price accuracy and avoid a violation notice.”
Agriculture, Weights and Measures maintains a consumer help line at 415-473-7888. If a consumer believes he or she has been overcharged, becomes aware of posted prices not being honored at the check-out stand, or is unable to view the prices of items when a purchase is being rung up, please call the help line immediately so staff can investigate.
Want to watch out for yourself and others more closely? There are helpful consumer tips on the Ag, Weights & Measures website.