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Wal-Mart to Settle Allegations It Overcharged Customers at Some Wisconsin Stores

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has agreed to pay $25,000 to settle allegations it overcharged customers at some Wisconsin stores, according to published reports.

Customers at several Wal-Mart supercenters were allegedly overcharged for bulk items including sweet potatoes, grapes, and grind-it-yourself coffee, because scales at the check-out registers didn't automatically subtract the weight of the bags from the total as required by state law, said Jim Rabbitt, director of the consumer protection division of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.

Wal-Mart was given the option to settle before a lawsuit was filed.

State weight inspectors first learned about the problem with the scales in 2003, according to Rabbitt. Wal-Mart was told to correct the problem, but inspectors discovered it again last fall, Rabbitt said.

Wisconsin statutes provide a $1,000 fine for each weights violation. Inspectors tested 25 items at the stores in question, resulting in the $25,000 settlement.

A majority of the settlement money will go to the state's school fund, Rabbitt said.

Wal-Mart corporate has notified all Wisconsin stores to correct the practice, Rabbitt said. Still, state inspectors will make extra stops at the stores to follow up.

In other Wal-Mart news, the retailer said yesterday its fourth-quarter earnings will be at the low end of its earlier projections after its December same-sales came in below Wall Street's forecast.

Wal-Mart had previously estimated earnings would be in a range of 82 cents to 86 cents per share for the November-January period. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expected quarterly earnings of 84 cents per share, on average.

Wal-Mart said its same-store sales for the five weeks ended Dec. 30 rose 2.2 percent. Net sales for the same period rose 6.3 percent to $40.83 billion from $38.42 billion.

Wal-Mart said it expects January sales to rise between 3 percent and 5 percent in stores open at least a year.

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