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Murrysville consumer advocate recognized for efforts

Patrick Varine
| Friday, July 8, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Mary Bach of Murrysville is a nationally recognized consumer advocate.
Evan R. Sanders | Tribune-Review
Mary Bach of Murrysville is a nationally recognized consumer advocate.

About a year ago, when Mary Bach stopped by a Wal-Mart, she and her husband heard an unusual announcement over the store's public address system.

“It said, ‘Attention employees: Mary Bach is in the store,'” said the 71-year-old Murrysville resident. “And then they repeated it.”

They had good reason to do so: Bach has successfully sued Wal-Mart multiple times over discrepancies between the advertised price of an item and what she was charged at the register.

Wal-Mart hasn't been her only target.

Bach has filed successful civil actions against Kmart, CVS, Walgreens, and the former RadioShack, Hechinger hardware and Ames department stores.

It is not a get-rich-quick scheme — the lawsuits are only for $100, plus court costs on occasion. Bach's mission is consumer advocacy, something she has been doing for about three decades.

“I feel that a store should make a mistake one time,” she said. “They can correct that error in a nanosecond. But often they don't.”

Bach was presented with a citation this week for her efforts from Murrysville Mayor Bob Brooks and she will give the opening remarks at an AARP event focused on avoiding consumer fraud and scams at the Monroeville Convention Center on Wednesday.

Bach, who has been accused of “shopping for her next lawsuit” by an attorney representing one of the stores she sued, said she is simply looking out for consumers.

“We all shop. We all spend money,” she said. “And we all have to just do our own due diligence, because the oversight for this by the government is not as powerful as you might think.”

In Pennsylvania, the attorney general's office has fielded nearly 200 pricing and scanning complaints and more than 300 identity theft complaints since the beginning of 2015, according to Assistant Press Secretary Sadie Martin.

“The Bureau of Consumer Protection welcomes the efforts of volunteers like Mary,” Martin said. “She is a true consumer advocate and treasure for the entire commonwealth.”

Bach puts in between 2,000 and 3,000 hours per year traveling the state to discuss consumer fraud with groups like the AARP. Her husband, Leonard, estimated she travels about 20,000 miles annually.

“I'm very proud of what she does,” he said. “She's a real model for volunteers and working for people.”

Her travels also have led her to advocate for drivers buying fuel. In 2007 when traveling, she began to notice a significant number of outdated inspection decals on gas pumps. She gained the attention of then-Auditor General Jack Wagner, whose office audited pumps and found that one in five had not been properly inspected or calibrated.

The audit led to the hiring of 22 additional inspectors and an 85 percent increase in the number of pumps inspected statewide, according to tate Agriculture Department data.

In 1999, Bach was named the National Consumer of the Year and recognized at the National Press Club in Washington. The Pennsylvania Department of Weights and Measures named its annual Consumer of the Year Award in her honor after she received it multiple times.

Bach stressed that she is not singling out any business, but rather aiming to hold all retailers accountable to consumers.

“I don't tell them how to run their business,” she said. “I just want to make sure that the customers get the lowest advertised price, because that's the law.”

Patrick Varine is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at pvarine@tribweb.com.

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