Story Corps

Placeholder Image photo credit: Mike Mozart/flickr
A Walmart checkout register

Feel like your receipt from a shopping trip is a little higher than it should be?

It’s not just inflation that has hit Sonoma County wallets - overcharging has been on the rise and the County’s Department of Weights & Measures is taking notice.

The price on the shelf doesn’t always line up to the price you pay - on average Sonoma County receives close to a hundred consumer complaints each fiscal year for overcharges at various stores.

And recent figures have alarmed inspectors at the County’s Department of Weights & Measures.

"Unfortunately, this is going to be a sort of a record setting year for us," said Fernando Vasquez.

Vasquez is with the Department of Weights & Measures - the agency which regulates and inspects instruments which - weigh and measure - specifically for business transactions like produce scales, gas pumps and cash registers.

The County has five dedicated price inspectors - and Vasquez said their method is quite straightforward.

"They will either select 50 items, 26 items, or 16 items randomly throughout the store," Vasquez said. "And you know, some of them will be sale items, some of them will be discounted items."

"They note the advertised price," Vasquez said. "All those items get run through the cash register, and any discrepancies are brought to the attention of the business."

98% of businesses comply with the rules according to Vasquez, but for the other two percent:

"Anytime that they fail the inspection, they're automatically put on a re-inspection and they're seen continuously until they can comply with the pricing ordinance requirements," Vasquez said.

He said the past year plus has been especially concerning.

Some of our biggest violators, they're on their 10th, 11th re-inspection because they have not been able to pass the inspection," Vasquez said. "And we do issue administrative penalties for businesses that are found to be in violation of the ordinance, and so far, we're up to about 140 something for the fiscal year."

"Well on pace to beat our previous record," Vasquez said.

Vazquez said large retail chains with thousands of items are most prone to price violations, and he said overcharged customers who haven’t been able to resolve the issue with the business directly should contact the Department of Weights & Measures to file a complaint.

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