2011-08-26 / Top Stories

DCA Looks To Beef Up Supermarket Fines

A report released by the Department of Consumer Affairs indicates that supermarket compliance in relation to consumer pricing has plummeted, calling for Commissioner Jonathan Mintz to turn towards the possibility of enacting a violation system based on consumer complaints that would actually pay the customer for the supermarket’s violation.

Since last year, the agency has doubled the number of supermarket inspections in response to low industry-wide compliance, and found that compliance declined from last year’s low of 48 percent down to only 41 percent. Last year, DCA announced that its inspection of 983 supermarkets throughout the five boroughs resulted in having to issue violations in 516 of those inspections. DCA inspectors this year conducted 1,980 supermarket inspections and had to issue violations in 1,162 of those inspections, with total fines assessed of close to a million dollars.

Inspectors check for accurate pricing, proper taxing of products, and accuracy of scales and scanners, all of which affect New Yorkers’ wallets at the checkout counter.

Out of those nearly 2,000 stores only three from the Rockaway peninsula made the inspection list, NSA Supermarket in Rockaway Beach and Key Food and Cruz Food both in Far Rockaway. All three Rockaway supermarkets inspected were cited with violations.

“For too long stores have enjoyed the rewards of their overcharges and seen paying city fines as just ‘the cost of doing business.’ This year doubling the number of inspections and thus doubling that ‘cost of doing business’ still was not enough to get the City’s supermarkets to get it right at their check-out counters,” Mintz said. “Public pressure hasn’t worked, doubling enforcement activity hasn’t worked, and so today I propose the Grocery SHOP Act, which would both give overcharged consumers ten times the amount they were overcharged and that item for free, and also triple current City fines.”

In the past year’s inspections the most common violations were for failure to mark proper quantities and provide required accountability information on food packaged in the store, adding tax to items that are not taxable, charging the wrong prices at check-out scanners, failing to affix price tags on individual items, and maintaining inaccurate scales or failing to make scales available to customers for products sold by weight

In light of low and decreasing supermarket compliance, Commissioner Mintz called for the Grocery Shoppers Have Overcharge Protection (SHOP) Act. Under the Grocery SHOP Act, every time a consumer is overcharged, he or she would get both ten times the amount of the overcharge and that item for free. Both Connecticut and Michigan have similar, successful laws on their books, and customer payback is a standard industry best practice. Second, the Grocery SHOP Act would triple existing fines.

Currently, fines for some violations begin at $25 and others begin at only $300, and would increase to either $75 or $900 depending on the violation.

In July, as part of its crackdown, DCA launched #nickeled&dimed, an outreach initiative to educate New Yorkers about their rights at the supermarket and encourage them to report their incidents of overcharges at the check-out counter. Like the dozens who already have contacted DCA, New Yorkers can tweet their stories to @NYCDCA using the hashtag #nickeled& dimed and post to DCA’s Facebook page. The messages received as part of #nickeled&dimed will be treated as enforcement tips, so they should include the name of the supermarket, address or cross streets, and an explanation of the overcharges. For a complete guide to smart shopping, download DCA’s guide Saving at the Supermarket. To file an official overcharge complaint, call 311 or visit nyc.gov/consumers.

DCA enforces the Consumer Protection Law and other related business laws throughout New York City. Empowering consumers and businesses to ensure a fair and vibrant marketplace, DCA licenses more than 78,000 businesses in 55 different industries. Through targeted outreach, partnerships with community and trade organizations, and informational materials, DCA educates consumers and businesses alike about their rights and responsibilities.

For more information, call 311 or visit DCA online at nyc.gov/consum ers. Follow us on Twitter and find us on Facebook.

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