A new Federal Trade Commission brochure cuts through the controversy over electronic price scanners by offering shop- pers some helpful tips for ensuring they're not overcharged at the checkout. "Price scanners may have replaced the tradi- tional price tag on packages, but they haven't replaced the careful consumer," said the Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, Jodie Bernstein.
Bernstein said the FTC is working with state attorneys general and state weights and measures officials in several regions of the country to determine the extent of scanner errors and whether federal or state law-enforcement action is necessary. Next week, at a meeting in Portland, Maine, state weights and measures officals will consider a national uniform procedure for examining electronic scanner accuracy.
In the meantime, the FTC has issued this new brochure, titled "Attention All Shoppers: Make Sure the Scanned Price is Right," which is free for the asking. The FTC explains in the brochure that most everyday items in supermarkets and other retail outlets bear a Universal Product Code -- or UPC -- a series of numbers of vertical bars that are decoded by a computer to reveal the product's price and description, both of which appear on the consumer's receipt.
According to retailers, electronic scanners speed check- out time, reduce labor costs, improve sales and inventory records, and result in fewer pricing errors than manually keying the price into the cash register. Some consumer groups, on the other hand, say that the scanned price is not always right and estimate that scanner errors cost consumers millions of dollars a year.
What can you do to ensure you're not overcharged? Here are some tips from the FTC's new brochure:
- Watch the display screen for prices, and speak up if you think you're being overcharged. Some stores will give you the product for free if the scanner reads the wrong price.
- Bring a copy of the store's flyer or newspaper ad to the checkout counter to be sure you get the special deals.
- Jot down prices or special sales on product packages as you do your grocery shopping or on other occasions where you're buying many items at one time.
The FTC brochure also advises consumers to complain to the store manager if they notice a pattern of electronic scanning errors in a particular store. Consumers also can report recurring problems to their state Attorney General, state or local consumer protection office, and their state Office of Weights and Measures. Phone numbers and addresses for these offices are found in the blue pages of local phone books. And while the FTC usually does not intervene in individual cases, consumer complaints can sometimes point to a pattern of law violations that require Commission action. The FTC complaint address is Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580.
Copies of the new brochure "Attention All Shoppers" are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases, brochures and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov