Don't get ripped off at the checkout during the holidays

By Anthony GiorgianniConsumer Reports

During the holiday shopping rush, whether you’re buying gifts, food, decorations or anything else, it’s easy to lose focus on what you’re paying. You need to be vigilant on everything, from the charges made to your credit cards, (see video) to price scanner errors.

In 2014 alone, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services collected more than $61,000 in penalties after inspectors found ongoing scanner errors at one or more locations of such well-known retailers as CVS, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Pep Boys, Staples, Walgreens, and Walmart.

Continue Reading Below

Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection reported that Walgreens paid a penalty of more than $29,000 after a statewide inspection of 58 locations in that state.

Over the last 24 months, San Diego County Department of Agriculture, Weights, and Measures officials reported collecting nearly $158,000 in fines because of scanner overcharges at one or more locations of dozens of retailers, including Albertson’s, CVS, Home Depot, JCPenney, Kmart, Kohl’s, Sears, Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores, Old Navy, Macy’s, Starbucks, Yankee Candle, Walmart, Williams-Sonoma, and many more.

In its own warning about scanner errors, the county reported that in 2013, one out of every five stores it inspected had overcharges, averaging nearly $3 per error.

Check out our holiday gifts ideas & guide.

What to do

Don’t simply assume that the price that rings up at the scanner is correct. If you’re buying based an advertised sale price, bring the ad with you, advises San Diego County. Check the price that rings up or your receipt before leaving the store. If you’re uncertain whether a price is correct, go back to the product aisle and check.

If there’s an error, check the store’s policy. It’s also a good idea to know your state or locality’s scanner rules. Some stores offer a free item or some other benefit if the wrong price rings up, and some states have similar requirements. Report the problem to the store's manager, and ask for a refund of the overcharge. Also consider filing a complaint with your local or state consumer protection department.

—Anthony Giorgianni

Visit our Holiday Gift Ideas page throughout the season to find the best deals, time-saving advice, and much more.

Copyright © 2005-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.