For Immediate ReleaseMarch 08, 2023
Supervisors hear findings from Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures
San Rafael, CA – As the COVID-19 pandemic eased in 2022, local government inspectors who check the accuracy of pricing in the Marin County marketplace doubled the number of on-site inspections when compared with the previous year. The result was a 241% increase in items found overcharged to customers.
In fact, there was a larger increase – 281% -- in items found to be undercharged to customers.
Those were some of the key figures mentioned in the new 2022 Marin County Consumer Protection Report, presented to the Marin County Board of Supervisors on March 7. Staff from the Marin County Department of Agriculture / Weights and Measures (AWMs) performed 12,537 inspections (up from 6,449 in 2021) at 387 businesses (up from 307) to ensure accuracy of measuring devices and checking the prices charged to consumers.
AWMs Inspector Raoul Wertz said there were 467 overcharged items discovered during unannounced routine inspections in 2022, up from 137 in 2021. Undercharged items went from 87 to 332.
The department responded to 41 customer inquiries, concerns, and complaints about Marin businesses, a 70% increase from the prior year. Complaints often involve retail overcharging, allegations of gas pumps “shorting” customers on fuel, or credit/debit card skimmers. The complaints are typically shared via a phone hotline – (415) 473-7888 – an email to staff, or an online form on the department’s website. Staff investigates complaints of posted prices not being honored or inability to view prices when a purchase is being rung up at the checkout stand.
Wertz also pointed out that 4.5% of all retail items randomly price-checked by inspectors in 2022 rang up at a higher price than posted. For instance, a grocery cart with 25 items likely includes one overcharge, he said.
“We attribute the increase in complaints in 2022 to consumers being more aware of prices in the wake of pandemic pricing and media coverage of price gouging,” Wertz said.
AWMs Assistant Director Scott Wise acknowledged that since the pandemic brick-and-mortar retail stores have faced significant challenges such as reduced sales, increased online competition, supply chain disruptions, inflation, and worker shortages. “In short, this has been an incredibly challenging time for businesses with many closing for good. Please remember to support our Marin County businesses by shopping locally whenever possible,” he said.
Weights and Measures inspectors urge consumers to shop with care, pay attention to posted prices and promotional offers, and always retain and check their receipts to ensure the correct price was paid for merchandise and services.
There were 226 notices of violation issued in the 2021-22 fiscal year to 169 local businesses. When AWMs inspectors find violations, businesses receive a notice of violation. If the violation is egregious or the business has repeatedly received the same type of violations, there would likely be a fine. The department’s goal is to gain compliance through education and outreach.
This marked the seventh consecutive year the AWMs staff produced a Consumer Protection Report. The department’s weights and measures inspection staff has only 2.3 full-time positions, but employees spent 4,599 hours serving the public’s interest by ensuring accuracy and equity in the marketplace and protecting the health and welfare of Marin residents.
Want to watch out for yourself and others more closely? There are helpful consumer tips on the Ag, Weights & Measures website.
Scott WiseAssistant Commissioner/DirectorDepartment of Agriculture, Weights and Measures
1682 Novato Blvd.Suite 150-ANovato, CA 94947(415) 473-6700Email: Scott WiseAWM website