Don’t let yourself be overcharged

June 25 2007 by Ellen Roseman

My work has taught me to question all charges and ask if they’re necessary. If you fail to do it right at the beginning, you may find it hard to get a refund later. You will have little bargaining power and the company may ignore you.

Last Saturday’s column was about a Rogers home phone customer, billed for $68,000+ after a residential move. She spotted the mistake right away, but had a terrible time trying to get it resolved. And if she hadn’t paid attention, she would have been overbilled again while trying to clear up the initial mess.

I’ve had a few experiences of easily getting a discount when a price is too high. Last week, I bought two books online at, one from a dealer in Michigan and one from a dealer in New Jersey. The first charged $8.99 (US) for shipping, but the second one charged $11 (US). Here’s the correspondence.

Hi there, Stephanie. I just wanted to mention that the shipping fee seemed high (the book is $13.86 and the shipping is $11). I ordered another book from Abebooks yesterday, which is longer and heavier. Maybe you can explain the difference, why a larger book should be less expensive to ship.

Hi Ellen, Thanks for your email. I have issued a shipping refund of $4. Now that the U.S. Postal Service has changed its policies of shipping (no longer offering surface mail as an option for international packages), we are required to send every package air mail or priority. We often get burned on postage this way because takes a percentage of the shipping and handling fee that is charged. We have found that a higher shipping rate allows us to guarantee that our expenses are covered. We have no problem refunding a portion of your shipping costs, though.

I had another experience this weekend, when I bought a plant for my garden (a hosta) that was marked down to $9.78. The Loblaws clerk rang it in at $12.99, the original price. I asked her to double check and she said yes, the right price was $9.78. But she didn’t say anything about the voluntary code for scanner price accuracy, which allows you to get something for free (up to $10) if the store overcharges you.

I reminded her and she took $10 off the original price. That left me paying $2.99. Later, I realized this was wrong. The sale price was under $10, so I should have gotten the plant for free. I went back to another Loblaws store this morning, showed the bill and immediately got a refund of my $2.99, plus 42 cents tax.

Don’t stores train their cashiers in the scanner accuracy policy? If this was a law, instead a voluntary code, I’m sure they would work harder to put it into practice.



    Jun 26 2007

    Hey Ellen,

    Great blog you have. I just wanted to comment that I’ve tried the “scanning code of practice” bit also when things are scanned inaccurately. My experience has been the same as yours. The cashiers have NO idea that the item should be discounted/free. Perhaps they are trained this way on purpose so that they don’t mention it to customers who are unaware of the policy.


  2. jamie

    Jun 29 2007

    I agree the price scanning code needs to be made into law. I have never had the code properly honoured. And I’ve never had a store voluntarily implement the code when I’ve pointed out an overcharge.

    The worst was at Future Shop. When I pointed out the overcharge, a rude employee argued like mad that the code did not apply because I hadn’t already paid. She phoned to check with someone, while they removed the offending price sign (from the prior week’s sale) and claimed no such price was ever there, despite minutes before having agreed the scanned price was wrong.

    I bought the product without the $10 off under the code and pursued complaints, eventually being offered a $20 gift card from Future Shop. For that and the one previous time I called the 1-800 code line, I never heard from the Retail Council.

    On my next trip to Future Shop, I noticed they had completely removed the scanning code signs. I exchanged emails with the Retail Council, and months later Future Shop put the signs required to comply with the code back at the registers and entrance. Well, under a year later, they have removed all the signs from their registers again but still maintain one at the entrance.

    After the Future Shop incident, I started to notice the signs more. I noticed 3 Shoppers Drug Marts under the same ownership had removed all traces of the signs, replacing them with a custom-made sign indicating they would honour the lowest price, but not mentioning the $10 off part or 1-800 phone number. As I had a previous issue with these stores regarding persistent overcharging by their postal outlets (not covered by scanning code, but a similar issue), I made complaints about their removing the signs to Shoppers and the drug council…for months, before they replaced the signs.

    As the code is voluntary, the worst offending stores (particularly Hudson’s Bay Co.) just don’t bother to volunteer.

  3. Bylo

    Jun 30 2007

    Speaking of Loblaws, a while ago I went shopping there one morning to buy some imported jam that was in their flyer at $1/jar off. At the checkout they tried to charge me the regular price ($3.99 IIRC) on each of four jars. When I protested the cashier credited me for the $4 difference and I went on my way. (I didn’t bother with the “voluntary code for scanner price accuracy, which allows you to get something for free” because it was early on the first day of their sale. Besides the cashier assured me that she’d tell the manager to update their computer system.)

    Anyway, a couple of days later the sale was still on, I went to the same store to get a few more jars and the scanner still insisted on charging me the regular price! Evidently it’s more profitable to give the occasional shopper a free jar of jam while overcharging the vast majority who don’t notice the “scanner error.”

    We don’t need a voluntary code for scanner price accuracy. What we really need is an involuntary jail sentence for store managers and executives who knowingly commit fraud on their customers. I’m sure that would be more effective in keeping Loblaws’ scanners up-to-date 😉

  4. Ellen Roseman

    Jul 5 2007

    Here’s another reason to check your credit card bills — you may find charges that don’t belong there. It pays to call the company you patronized and ask questions.

    I stayed at the Manoir Richelieu, a hotel near Quebec City last month while attending a conference. I’d paid all outstanding charges when I left. So, what was that extra $25 charge from the hotel on my latest Visa bill?

    After calling the hotel, I was put through to the accounting department. It took only a few seconds to find the culprit. “That was for the minibar in your room,” I was told. “No way, I didn’t go near the minibar,” I said.

    Luckily, the accounting department believed me and agreed to credit my Visa account. How much would I have had to eat or drink to ring up a $25 charge? I wonder if this is a common experience.

  5. Linda Grimm

    Jul 27 2007

    Hello Ellen,

    I sent you a complaint regarding what I felt was an unfair charge by Rogers – they were billing me even after I had cancelled my account.
    Thank you so much for your help in getting this bill corrected. I recently had a phone call from Rogers and not only did they dismiss the bill, they have refunded me $23.57.
    It is wonderful that people like yourselves are there for those of us that feel they have been treated poorly – and help to correct the situation.

    Linda Grimm
    Rosedale Manor B&B
    Placentia, Newfoundland

  6. Marie

    Sep 10 2007

    I am a cashier working at a branch of Loblaws. I had never been told about the scanner accuracy policy or been taught how to deal with it. In fact, if a customer hadn’t mentioned it to me when his cough drops had rung in at the wrong price, I would have never learned of its existence.

  7. char

    Jan 8 2008

    I bought a DVD at Wal-Mart that was originally priced at $29.83. It was on a rack with a sign saying it was on sale for $21.93. It was a new release. When I got home, I noted the charge was $23.83.

    I went back and was told because the DVD did NOT have a sticker with the UPC code on it for $21.93, I would be getting back only the difference between $21.93 and $24.93. No $10.00 was coming my way.

    They have a small notice at the cash register stating that if an item has a sticker and a higher price is charged, the difference between the two would be refunded, but nothing else. I was told this was their way of showing they tried to ensure that a lower price would be charged.

    What’s up? Is this appropriate or should I have received $10.00?

    Thanks Ellen, as usual you are doing a great job and I’m enjoying your STAR columns and this website a lot.

  8. inna gokhman

    Jul 30 2009

    I learned about being overcharged for S&H when an ultrasound device I bought from MEDEX supplies got broken and I had to ship it back for repair. It cost me $8. The shipping fee at the original purchase was $20.

    Now, when the repaired device didn’t work, they told me to send it back again and refused to pay any of the shipping fees, though it is a manufacturer’s defect and it’s under warranty. Another $8.

    My out of pocket shipping fee would be $36 — or 30% of the device price.

    I would appreciate an opinion on my options. Thank you.

  9. rosemarie t

    Dec 3 2009

    Just read some of your articles. Here I sit with my bill of yesterday from Zellers.

    I bought a “Big Buck Hunter” last weekend for one of my grandsons for Christmas for $39.99 and my other grandson said he would like one too because he was with me. Yesterday I went to another Zellers and picked up another “Big Buck Hunter” game. I just checked my bill and I see I was charged $79.99 for the same game!

    How does this happen? What a huge difference! Have to drag out the car and make another trip back to the store and guess what? I’ve Christmas wrapped it now.

    While I’m at it…I’d like to mention that Zellers only puts half the prices on their merchandise and/or the shelf where they sit. Guess they hope you’ll stick it in your basket and just pay whatever the price is once you get to the checkout.

  10. Marissa

    Jul 21 2010

    I have to agree with Jamie, Future Shop is one of the WORST, has rude employees who will not honour what you have to say about their own policy.

    They give you so much trouble on just price matching, even though it’s written clearly everywhere on their website, flyers and store. I don’t get these idiotic employees. It’s not like it’s coming out of their pocket!

    I must say, though, I am extremely sick and tired of Future Shop’s employees and how they fail to accept their own policy and even give their customers a chance to explain.

    Last time SCOP happened to me, they supposedly called a supervisor who said she knows this issue and said that I was wrong and that it’s only for an item up to $10 and that I should get 10% off, not $10. She wouldn’t look at the sign I showed her nor would she let me listen.

    At this point, I didn’t even want the discount or even the product! I will be returning the item to the store and making sure I will not shop at Future Shop EVER AGAIN.

    It’s good enough you can find the products in Failure Shop at other retailers who will do a price match. We don’t need your crappy treatment.

    Future Shop has extremely uneducated employees working there. The Technicians seem to be the best, but the cashiers, ha. You make me sick.

  11. Marissa

    Jul 21 2010

    EDIT: I meant to say she wouldn’t let me talk when I was mentioning the policy to her. I’m glad people are standing up and having their say with their tragic experiences in Failure Shop.

  12. Jan

    Apr 8 2013

    I found out on the weekend that Target Canada does not use the voluntary scanner price accuracy code in their stores.

    Scrubbing Bubbles was advertised on their shelf at $2.99 (on sale). But when I went to the checkout, it rang up at $4.54 (regular price).

    I told the clerk that it was supposed to be $2.99 and she rang it up as such.

    After paying the $2.99, I went to the customer service to get the product for free (as Walmart and Shoppers Drug Mart will do) and they said they do not use the scanner price accuracy code.

    Your readers might want to know this information.

    It was my first trip to Target on Yonge St. in Newmarket, Ont., and perhaps my last.