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Checking for the right price at the cash register

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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- State inspectors are making sure consumers are getting the prices promised in stores this holiday season.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services checks prices on millions of items throughout the year, said Standards Inspector II Michael Beal.

"We do a lot more seasonal items. Hams, turkeys, seasonal candies. Items the store typically does not carry throughout the year in large quantities," he explained.

Beal added, "We're going in and we're doing price audits. Checking for prices on the shelf. Making sure it matches on the shelf what it rings up for you."

He said most mistakes they find are due to a mechanical error, such as a broken scale, or to human error, such as a sale sign posted in the wrong location.

"Nine times out of 10, these stores want you to tell them so they can get it fixed," he pointed out. "Them deliberately ringing up the wrong prices is rare."

The inspections are unannounced and random, and range from drug stores to grocery stores.

"Consumers are generally more aware of prices during this time of year because a lot of them are shopping for the sales," said Jerry Butler, measurement section manager.

According to a state press release, "For drug stores and dollar stores, 50 items are scanned in the initial inspection and 100 items are scanned at grocery stores and large-format retail stores. If the store fails, inspectors return for a 300-item inspection. If the store fails this inspection, it receives a fine of up to $5,000. Stores are fined a $150 administrative fee and then $15 for every item that is overpriced on the shelf. Any fines paid by stores go to the local school system."

Consumers can contact the Standards Division at 919-707-3225 to register a complaint.