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Public Rights Division


Shopping Smart

California law requires that all businesses play fair with their customers. Here are some of the laws you may not have known . . .

Charging the posted price
A store can’t charge more for a product than the lowest price that’s posted or advertised. This includes sale items, supermarket “club” specials, and catalogs. Accidental overcharges are more common than you’d think! Always check your receipt to make sure you were charged the right price. If a store overcharges, it may be a crime. (Business & Professions Code §12024.2.)

False advertising
Any advertisement that’s untrue or misleading is against the law – as long as the business knows or should know that it’s untrue or misleading. This includes “bait and switch” advertising: merchants can’t advertise a low-priced product that is unavailable simply to entice customers into the store to sell a higher-priced product. (Business & Professions Code §17500.)

Refunds and exchanges
Stores must give refunds or exchanges on all items that are returned within 7 days with a receipt. The only exception is if they have clear signs stating a no-refund or no-exchange policy in one of the following places: at each cash register and sales counter; at each public entrance; on tags attached to each item; or on their order forms.  (Civil Code §1723.)

“Going out of business” sales
In Santa Monica, “going out of business” and “liquidation” sales can’t be advertised or held without a City permit. The permit must be prominently displayed near the store entrance.  (S.M.M.C. 6.46)

Gift certificates
By law, gift certificates can’t have expiration dates. If they do, and the date has passed, the business must either refund the amount in cash or give you a replacement certificate at no cost. (Civil Code §1749.5.)

Credit card surcharges
Retail businesses can’t charge an extra fee when you pay by credit card. However, they can offer a discount on the established price if you pay cash. (Civil Code §1748.1.)

Same prices for men and women
Businesses are required to charge men and women the same price for similar goods and services. For example, dry cleaners can’t charge a higher price for cleaning women’s blouses than they do for men’s shirts.  (S.M.M.C. §4.32.171.)

If you have a complaint against a Santa Monica business or would like more information about your consumer rights, call the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit at (310) 458-8336.

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