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News Release

California Department of Food and Agriculture

Media Contacts: Steve Lyle, CDFA Public Affairs (916) 654-0462 or,

California Department of Food and Agriculture
Release #09-096
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Protect against overcharges

SACRAMENTO, December 2, 2009 The holiday shopping season is underway and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is reminding consumers to always check their receipts for accuracy.

California law says that it is unlawful at the time of sale to charge an amount greater than the price that is advertised, posted, marked, displayed, or quoted. Any requirements that a buyer needs to meet to get the sale price must be conspicuously posted and the seller must honor the price on posted sale signs.

Overcharges do occur and are something that consumers should keep in mind. A 2008 price verification survey by CDFA's Division of Measurement Standards found that 83 percent of stores inspected in the survey had no overcharges while 17 percent did have overcharges.
It is not uncommon in stores for sellers to extend sales dates. In other cases, store personnel sometimes fail to remove old price signs or incorrectly post the sale price before the sale begins. The seller must honor the price on posted sale signs, regardless of any dates.

How do buyers know the right price? If a sign indicates, "2 for $2" the buyer may not know whether they must buy two items or not.  In fact whether the product is peaches or an individually priced item, state law says that merchants are not to charge a price that is greater than the true extension of a price per unit, which in this example would be $1.00. 

But what if the sign says, "2 for $2, 1 at regular price"? Again, the law says that any requirements that a buyer needs to meet to get the sale price must be conspicuously posted.  This offering indicates that a minimum purchase is required so the consumer would be expected to pay $1.00 each if two items are purchased or the regular price if they purchased only one.

Officials from the CDFA and county weights and measures regularly inspect price scanners for accuracy and will respond to complaints. Officials routinely make undercover purchases and when an item is overcharged, the store will receive a notice of violation.  Officials will return within a few days or a week later to check on the store's progress. If there are multiple overcharges, or egregious overcharges, the store will receive an administrative penalty from the county sealer of weights and measures.  Any chain stores that have consistent overcharges are investigated on a statewide basis.  If the investigation finds a significant problem, the county district attorney or state attorney general will be brought in to prosecute either civilly or criminally.

Consumers who believe they have been overcharged may file a complaint online at or call the California Division of Measurement Standards at 916-229-3000.



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California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Public Affairs
1220 N St., Ste. 214, Sacramento, CA 95814