SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – Consumers who use coin machines at grocery stores may not be getting an accurate count.

“I brought in two amounts pretty much knowing the amounts,” said Joseph Enz, who used a CoinMaster machine at Safeway. “But both amounts came up very short.”

Enz filed a complaint with Santa Clara County Weights and Measures and their investigation confirmed the machine was inaccurate.

Accuracy problems aren’t just with CoinMaster machines. Joy Hauser claims she counted $122.56 before using a Coinstar machine. But when she loaded her money into the machine, after Coinstar took its 9.8 percent fee, she said she left the store with $105. Hauser said he was shortchanged $5. Hauser’s story promoted an investigation by The State Division of Measurement Standards.

Assistant Director David Lazier said he selected 10 Coinstar machines and conducted 30 transactions. His investigation found discrepancies in nearly a quarter of those transactions.

“I had four that were underpayments and three that were over-payments, Lazier said. “These are mechanical devices and things happen.”

Our ConsumerWatch producer also found similar results when she tested two Bay Area machines. After taking $95 to Lucky stores and Foods Co. Ayala gained an extra penny at each location.

According to Lazire, there are currently no statewide guidelines for testing procedures on these machines. Still he said consumers shouldn’t be discouraged from using these machines, or filing a complaint with their local Weights and Measures Department.

“The machines are generally going to be accurate as long as you pay attention to what you’re doing,” he said. Certain credit unions, like San Francisco Federal Credit Union and Golden 1, will count coins for free for their own customers.

In a statement Coinstar told CBS 5, “For 20 years, and with more than 700 million coin-counting transactions, Coinstar machines have been recognized for the highest standards of accuracy and performance.

The California Division of Measurement Standards report stated, “based on this limited survey, it appears Coinstar coin counting machines can accurately and repeatedly count and give the customer credit for their coins.”

As for Safeway, they tell us Enz was given a gift card for his troubles. They have now replaced the machine with Coinstar.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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