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Shortchanged: How accurate are automatic coin counting machines?

In a WTOL 11 Investigation, Tim Miller put ten different machines to the test to see if you could be getting shortchanged.

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Do you have spare change lying around the house? One option is to get cash for it without having to do the work to count it.

But how reliable are those coin counting machines you see in local stores? In a WTOL 11 Investigation, we put ten different machines to the test to see if you could be getting shortchanged.

Loose change can be all over the house and a nuisance. But at Coinstar machines, you dump your coins in and they give you cash back, charging a 10.9 percent processing fee on your total.

You expect 100 percent accuracy for what you put in and we wanted to hold them to it. So, we took coins of all denominations to ten coin counting machines.

Our first stop was to the Coinstar machine inside the Kroger on Jackman Road. We brought in $25 in coins and counted it twice for accuracy. The cash used included 70 quarters, 50 dimes, 40 nickels, and 50 pennies. As it counted our coins, our cash back kept going up. The processing fee took out $2.72, so we should have received a cash voucher for $22.28. That's exactly what we received.

Next was the Coinstar in the Kroger at Monroe and Secor. It was also accurate.

But at the Coinstar in the Walmart on West Central Avenue in Sylvania Township, what happened there was very surprising. As the coins went in, we noticed something was wrong. We didn't get back what we put in, even with that processing fee already taken out.

After leaving the store and the Coinstar machine, we took a look at what we got back. It was only $20.05. We were definitely shortchanged by that machine, losing credit for several of our quarters.

We put in 70 quarters. One was rightfully rejected because it was a Canadian quarter. But instead of getting credit for 69 quarters, we only got credit for 59. We were shortchanged $2.50.

But the errors didn't end there. We got credit for 51 dimes, when we only put in 50, and 43 nickels when we put in only 40. We gained some back, but in the end, were shortchanged by the machine by $2.25.

Mike Klear is an inspector and the manager of Lucas County's Department of Weights and Measures. He told us the state does not give counties the authority to regulate Coinstar machines.

"Do I think they should be tested? Yes, I do believe they should be tested. Currently, they are tested by the company themselves, but they should have an entity watching how they test," Klear said.

When we put coins in the Coinstar in the Walmart in Perrysburg, the machine got backed up. It ended our transaction, with coins left on the tray. We combined the total with a second transaction and got credit for 49 pennies instead of 50. This was not a big deal at all, but we were still shortchanged.

We wanted Coinstar's response. A spokesperson told us:

"Our goal at Coinstar is to provide consumers with a convenient, reliable and accurate coin counting solution. With 25 years in business, processing more than 1 billion transactions, we have a zero tolerance policy on our accuracy tests; if a kiosk doesn't meet our standards, it's shut down and fixed."

She also said customers with questions or concerns can call their customer service number at 1-800-928-2274.

The other Coinstar machines we tested were at West Central in Sylvania Township, North Holland Sylvania, in the Meijer on Conant Street in Maumee, in the Walmart on Glendale and in the Kroger Marketplace in Perrysburg. All five were accurate.

The tenth machine we tested with our $25 in coins was inside the Glass City Federal Credit Union in Maumee. We were shortchanged by one dime. While we lost ten cents, there was no processing fee. We learned at the counter that these are for credit union members only.

So, three of the ten machines we tested shortchanged us.

"Sure, it surprises me," Klear said. "And as a consumer, I want exactly what I pay for."

Coinstar told us you need to fulfill an exhaustive list of requirements to get a truly accurate test. At least 9 different conditions to meet, like counting the coins multiple times, even at the kiosk, and also cleaning dirty coins before d ropping them in. We doubt the average customer will do all that.

It seems the only way to make sure you don't get shortchanged is the inconvenient way - by taking your coins to a bank teller.

Read more on Coinstar's Customer Service here.

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