CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - How much attention do you pay while you're shopping? Are you on the lookout to be sure the price an item is listed for on the store shelf is really what you pay at the checkout?
With a cart full of items it's impossible to keep track. However, there is someone working behind the scenes to be sure you're not being over-charged when you shop at Charlotte-area stores.
When Buddy Dutton shows up, there's a lot of tension in the store. He's a weights and measures inspector for the North Carolina department of Agriculture. On any given day he could pop in on four or five retailers and do a random 50-item price check. He uses a scanning gun to make sure the price on the shelf is what rings up at the checkout.
"No one realizes I'm out here doing it. I'm just a behind the scenes guy doing my job protecting the consumer," Dutton said.
WBTV cameras followed him as he visited grocery stores, drug stores, and an auto parts shop in the University City Boulevard area of Charlotte. No item on the sales floor is off limits to his scanner.
Four of the spots passed their test with one or fewer mismatched prices. Dutton operates within a very small margin of error. If two items out of 50 ring up as an overcharge, a business fails.
That was the case at a Rite Aid on University City Boulevard. They had two over-charges on the first 50 item scan. That's a failure. However, Dutton gave them a second chance and scanned 50 more items. Again, the Rite Aid failed.
In 2011 Dutton completed 205 scans in Mecklenburg County and 26 retailers failed on that first scan.
He says most over-charges he sees are not intentional. The problem tends to get worse, he says, the more understaffed a certain business might be.
The Rite Aid in question will get another chance to pass, with a more in-depth scan. If the business fails again they face fines up to $5,000 and scans every sixty days.
"We don't just let them go, we're going to stay on them until they pass," Dutton said.
If you notice this happens to you while you're shopping there is something you can do.
You should look for a blue (in 2012) sticker at the register which shows the phone number of the North Carolina Agriculture Department.
You can call them and complain and someone like Dutton will be out within 24 hours to check out that business.