Los Angeles prosecutors on Thursday sued four national retailers, accusing them of duping shoppers into believing they got bigger discounts than they actually did.
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The separate lawsuits alleging deceptive advertising were filed against J.C. Penney, Sears, Kohl's and Macy's, according to the Los Angeles city attorney's office.
"Customers have the right to be told the truth about the prices they're paying -- and to know if a bargain is really a bargain," Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement.
Mr. Feuer said the retailers falsely advertised higher regular prices for merchandise so customers believed they were getting bigger bargains.
Sears and J.C. Penney declined to comment. Kohl's and Macy's didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
California law bars retailers from advertising a higher original price unless the product was sold at that price within three months of the ad.
The lawsuits seek civil penalties as much as $2,500 for each violation and injunctions to stop so-called false reference pricing to increase sales. Prosecutors said thousands of "sale" items were advertised at false reference prices.
One of the lawsuits said J.C. Penney was selling a maternity bathing suit top online for $31.99 in February, down from the original price of $46. The top was later marked down further but still compared to the $46 price point, even though the item was never actually sold for $46.
Prosecutors said J.C. Penney and Kohl's previously faced class-action lawsuits alleging similar deceptive business practices and had agreed to stop.