It’s easy to take advantage of poor people. They have very little power, or access to it. They have few recourses when they have been done wrong, because most of those recourses cost money. And stealing from poor people — especially in systemic forms such as wage theft, usury and price-gouging — is not even really a crime in the way that we normally think about such things.

Last week, the NC Dept. of Agriculture & Consumer Services reported “price scanning errors” in 70 stores in 38 North Carolina counties.

“Over the last year we have seen about 26 percent of price scanner inspections fail,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. Understand this is a statewide number; of every scanner inspected in NC, 26 percent of them are making errors.

Of the 70 stores that the department found to be overcharging their customers, 28 were Dollar General stores, 19 were Family Dollar stores and 15 of them were Walmarts — 88.6 percent of the list.

In 2021, Dollar General operated 18,190 stores in 47 states. With annual sales in 2021 of $34.22 billion, single-store sales averaged $1.9 million per year. In 2021, Dollar General posted an operating profit of $3.2 billion.

All 28 Dollar General Stores that were stealing from their customers in NC — which combined did as much as $53 million in annual sales based on the single-store average — were fined a total of $80,300 by the state, with fines capped at $5,000 for the worst offenders. Twenty-two of the 70 stores were fined $5,000 for error rates ranging from 5.33 percent, at the Walmart on Hendersonville Road in Asheville, to 34.4 percent, at the Advance Auto on Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh.

Important to note: Overcharges were calculated on a per-item basis, not as a dollar amount. For example, the Family Dollar on South Main Street in Winston-Salem paid a $5,000 fine on an error rate of 27.33 percent, which means 82 of 300 items tested were overpriced. So we have no way of knowing just how much money these stores were stealing from their customers, but mathematics tells us it could be as much as $1,000 per day — that’s based on a single-day sales average of $5,156 with an average item price of $3 and an average overcharge of 65 cents.

All we know is that they paid their fines and then went right back to business.

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