DCA SHOP Act aims to protect consumers at the check-out
by Lisa A. Fraser
Aug 23, 2011 | 1278 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A new initiative launched by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) will make it easier on shoppers who are overcharged for goods.

DCA found that the compliance by supermarkets to not overcharge customers at the register has declined from 48 percent last year to just 41 percent this year.

According to the DCA, the compliance rate in Queens is 39.1 percent compared to the city-wide percentage, while Brooklyn ranks at 42 percent.

“For too long stores have enjoyed the rewards of their overcharges and seen paying city fines as just the cost of doing business,” said DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz. “This year doubling the number of inspections and thus doubling that ‘cost of doing business’ still was not enough to get the city’s supermarkets to get it right at their check-out counters,”

The DCA doubled their number of inspections this year, following a commitment made last August after observing the low city-wide compliance.

DCA inspectors conducted 1,980 supermarket inspections this year, issuing violations in 1,162 of those inspections. According to the commissioner, the total fines were close to $1 million.

“They decided they would rather enjoy the illegal profit of overcharging customers,” Mintz said.

In light of the increasing low compliance, the DCA has proposed the Grocery Shoppers Have Overcharge Protection (SHOP) Act, which targets illegal overcharging at the register.

The act comes with two components. First is a tripling of city fines for any supermarket that overcharges at the register. Second, every time a consumer is overcharged, they will receive ten times the amount of the overcharge and that item for free.

“So if a consumer is overcharged by 25 cents, we’ll issue them $2.50 and give them that item for free,” he said. “I know how distracting it could be at the register to miss if a scanner has overcharged you. It is not a consumer’s job to be birddogging the cash register to see whether or not they’re being overcharged. This would incentivize them to say something.”

According to DCA, Connecticut and Michigan have similar, successful laws on their books.

The SHOP Act comes on the heels of another initiative the DCA launched at the end of July, called #Nickled&Dimed, the initiative was launched for the social networks, Twitter and Facebook, allowing consumers to become “secret shoppers” by reporting to the DCA any experience of overcharges at a supermarket and the location where it happened.

“It’s really nice to see deputizing New Yorkers take part in this,” the commissioner said. “It’s a problem that sweeps across the whole industry. If it were limited to certain neighborhood, our jobs would be much easier.”

Through the initiative, New Yorkers can tweet their experiences to the DCA’s Twitter handle, @NYCDCA using the hashtag #nickled&dimed, or post to the DCA’s Facebook page with the name of the supermarket, the address or cross streets and an explanation of the overcharges.

The commissioner noted that consumers should not mistake the two initiatives as an aid to lower high prices. They are strictly set up to stop overcharges. “It’s about advertising a price as one thing, then when you go to the check-out counter, the scanner rings it up as more,” Mintz said. “That’s illegal overcharging.”

To file an official overcharge complaint, call 311 or visit nyc.gov/consumers.

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