Proposed Law Would Pay Customers for Supermarket Violations

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    NEWSLETTERS

    New York City's Consumer Affairs Department says its inspectors were overcharged on a third of all their purchases at supermarkets, with the worst offenders in Manhattan. (Published Friday, Aug 19, 2011)

    Supermarkets are overcharging customers on their groceries even more than last year, and the worst offenders are in Manhattan, according to a new report released Thursday.

    The findings from the city's Consumer Affairs department were announced at a news conference Thursday, where Consumers Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz released a report that said only 41 percent of supermarkets were complying with consumer protection laws.

    That's a drop from last year, when 50 percent of supermarkets were found to be in compliance.

    Consumer Affairs said its undercover inspectors were overcharged on a third of all their purchases, including at several Morton-Williams supermarkets and several Whole Foods locations including the Columbus Circle store.

    Common violations were for failure to mark proper quantities and provide required accountability information on food packaged in the store, adding tax to items that are not taxable, charging the wrong prices at check-out scanners, failing to affix price tags on individual items, and maintaining inaccurate scales or failing to make scales available to customers for products sold by weight.

    The city had doubled the number of supermarket inspections since last year. NBC New York last month went undercover on one such inspection. At one Midtown supermarket, there was no overcharging but there were other violations including wrong signage.

    Customers admitted to NBC New York Thursday they did not regularly check prices at the checkout counter to make sure they were being charged accurately. "I probably should," said Rich Taylor of Boerum Hill.

    At one Midtown supermarket, Hell's Kitchen resident Caitlin Diodair walked out with a loaf of bread she said had been rung up at the wrong price. She said she brought it to the attention of the cashier, who corrected the purchase amount.

    According to Consumer Affairs’ inspections, the worst offenders were in Manhattan, where only 38 percent of supermarkets in compliance. The Bronx fared the best, with nearly half obeying the law. In Brooklyn, 41 percent had no violations. In Queens, the figure was 39 percent. And on Staten Island, nearly 44 percent of supermarkets were in compliance.

    In response to poor compliance rates, Mintz proposed Thursday a new law called the Grocery Shoppers Have Overcharge Protection (Grocery SHOP) Act in which shoppers would have overcharge protection. "If doubling the inspections don't work, the public pressure doesn't work, then we're going to have to look to the laws to really turn up the pressure."

    The law would give customers the overcharged item for free and pay them 10 times the overcharge amount. Fines for violations would also be tripled. Currently, some run as low as $25.

    Mintz noted a similar law in Connecticut.

    "I think that's a fabulous idea," said Kate McAleer, who lives in Hell's Kitchen. Diodadi, the woman initially overcharged for bread, said she "wouldn't complain about it" if the law were passed.

    The law would have to be approved by the City Council.

    Learn more about your rights at the supermarket.