Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Walgreen Co., alleging that stores overcharged customers and used misleading advertising and inaccurate sales tags.
Undercover investigators visited eight Walgreens stores in Jefferson City, Osage Beach, St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield. The lawsuit did not identify the specific store locations.
Of the 205 products purchased by investigators in June and July, 43 had price discrepancies, Koster's news release said. In those cases, customers were charged a higher price at the register than what was marked on display tags.
"My concern is this is not sloppiness," Koster told The Associated Press. "This is a business practice that is consciously intending to steal from sick people that go into Walgreens, from old people that go into Walgreens."
Koster also said some of the products included a container of Muscle Milk, a package of Lipton Tea and Oreo cookies. The price discrepancies ranged from a few cents to $15.
Joe Bindbeutel, chief of the Attorney General's Office Consumer Protection Division, said the investigation was launched after multiple consumers contacted the office and said that they had been charged a different price than was listed on the price tag.
"Retail pricing is an ongoing concern for the office," Bindbeutel said. "We monitor these complaints on a fairly regular basis."
But Bindbeutel said they were not expecting the situation with Walgreens to be as bad as it was.
"The conduct was far above and beyond our expectations," Bindbeutel said. "There's a lot price tags out there; there's a lot of transactions. Small mistakes are made, but this was far beyond what could be considered reasonable."
Missouri is not the first state to sue Walgreens over inaccuracy in pricing. In January, the company paid more than $1.4 million in civil penalties to four Bay Area counties in California. Just two months later, in March, it paid about $30,000 to settle a lawsuit in Wisconsin.
Although Bindbeutel didn't know if other states would launch investigations, he said he wouldn't be surprised.
"We are in close touch with other attorneys general across the nation," Bindbeutel said. "It would not surprise us if other authorities took a good hard look at this company as well."
Walgreens officials did not return calls for comment.
Koster's lawsuit aims to prevent future deceptive pricing and impose civil penalties on Walgreen, including reimbursement for the cost of the investigation, according to the news release.
Koster's office encourages any customer with an experience in price discrepancies at Walgreens to call the attorney general's consumer hotline at 800-392-8222 or contact the office online at ago.mo.gov.