Ralph's is ripping off shoppers, claims L.A. City Attorney

California grocery chain Ralph's has been ringing up more than the worth of its products. Or so says the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office, which filed suit alleging the grocery chain -- and its parent company Kroger -- have been overcharging for prepackaged and weighed goods.

In other words, if you shopped at Ralph's and thought that package of deli meat seemed a little lighter than the price warranted, you may have been right.

Undercover inspectors for the attorney's office found 27 violations of overcharges. Things like fried chicken, self-service salads and store-packaged frozen foods were all incorrectly priced, failing to take into account the weight of the packaging or ice if the item was frozen. In some cases, the inspector found the product actually weighed 3.5% less than was indicated on the package.

Ralph's and Kroger are facing fines of up to $256,000 each for the multiple penalties.

Kroger spokeswoman Meghan Glynn told the LA Times that it "takes allegations such as these seriously. We are conducting our own investigation and will take corrective actions as necessary."

Every once in a while, we hear about a retailer that is accused of errors at the register, incorrectly-entered prices or incorrectly scanned items. Typically these are found in one location and not an indication of a systemic problem at a company. Occasionally there is a lawsuit on behalf of consumers -- last year the New Jersey Attorney General sued Sears for auto repair fraud -- and the problems are fixed. But this isn't Ralph's first time on the block.

According to a press release from the L.A. Attorney's Office, Ralph's was previously issued notifications of multiple violations following package inspections and test purchases in 2008 and 2009, and paid fines. Additionally in September 2009, it was found to be overcharging on bulk coffee, and the practice continued for months after Ralph's was put on notice. Does Ralph's have some kind of corporate policy of overcharging customers? Unlikely, retail consultant Neil Stern of McMillan/Doolittle tells WalletPop. But there may a way that store managers are incentivized -- compensated or issued bonuses -- that lends itself to this kind of fraud.

It's important to note that retail fraud is almost always caught by shoppers. Mary Bach is an independent consumer advocate who has built a reputation on doing just that: catching retailers like Kmart, RadioShack and WalMart overcharging for items and suing to correct the errors. Bach says that in each case, the store had an opportunity to fix the mistakes but didn't. She advises savvy shoppers to immediately bring any mistake to a manager's attention and allow them the opportunity to address the issue. If the price hasn't been corrected by the next visit, go further and contact the local attorney's office (state, county or city) and file a complaint.

It worked in Los Angeles.

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