Monday, August 11

Consumer Scam Alert: "Pump 10" to Check for Rigged Pumps

Details contact lists are provided for the responsible consumer who, on discovering they've been price-gouged, prefer complaining intelligently rather than the routine dismissive whining before continuing their whine-filled day.

Years ago, when I taught college, I happened upon a reference, somewhere today deeply buried in the folds of lecture notes, revealing that supermarkets purposely program price scanners--hey, their computerized, you know--to pad profit margins. In other words, to many overcharges are by design, not accidents.* See Since them I've trained myself to shop for fewer items to better remember item prices. I can't guess how many times I've caught overcharges.

While making but a small difference to my finally tally, multiply that item--or items--over several shoppers and we're talking about a generous offering the buying public makes to the food industry.

Two concerned consumers may have discovered that local franchises that pay tribute to the Five Sisters--the mega-gas and oil corporations--may be using the supermarket mark-up scheme to pad their profit-margins.

Late last month, Kim and Cordi blogged at OfftheGirdGirls's [sic] posted below this stressing personal experience at a BP pump in Georgia.
Passing this along. Be careful of being over charged at the pumps!!!

I pumped exactly one gallon of gas. The price did not match the cost of one gallon, it was higher. He went inside and complained, got a refund. There is also a number on each pump that you can call and complain.

This is a true story, so read it carefully.

On April 24, 2008, I stopped at a BP gas station in GA. My truck’s gas gauge was on 1/4 of a tank. I use the mid-grade, which was priced at $3.71 per gallon. When my tank is at this point, it takes somewhere around 14 gallons to fill it up.

When the pump showed 14 gallons had been pumped I began to slow it down, then to my surprise it went to 15, then 16. I even looked under my truck to see if it was being spilled. It was not. Then it showed 17 gallons on the pump. It stopped at 18 gallons. This was very strange to me, since my truck has only an 18 gallon tank. I went on my way a little confused, and then on the evening news I heard a report that 1 out of 4 gas stations had calibrated their pumps to show more gas had been pumped than a person actually got.

Here is how to check a pump to see if you are getting the right amount:

Whichever grade you are using, put EXACTLY 10 GALLONS in your tank, and then look at the dollar amount. If the dollar amount is not EXACTLY 10 times the price of the fuel you have chosen, then the pumps are rigged.

In my case as I said the mid-grade was $3.71 9/10 per gallon; my dollar amount for 10 gallons should have been $37.19. I wish I had checked the pump. It doesn’t matter where you pump gas, please check the 10 gallon price. If you do find a station that is cheating, contact the State Agriculture Department, and direct your comments to the
Commissioner- -the information is on the gas pumps.

Please don’t delete this until you have sent it to all people in your address book. We need to put a stop to this outrageous cheating of customers. The gas companies are making enough profits at honest rates....
A response to this consumer alert offered a little finer point regarding which division within state agriculture offices to forward any compliant:
A call to your states [sic] bureau of weights and measures should put some heat on those rigged pumps. around [sic] here they go around all the time checking the calibration on pumps.
The website of the National Conference on Weights and Measures provided contact information for directors for each of the fifty states--to include DC, no less, yet excluding US territories--here.

Considering the intraagency competition, you can as a concerned consumer put an even finer point on the matter if you cc: your email/complaint to the requisite state, county and cite government consumer protection office.

Now go and raise a little long overdue hell about that price-gouging, 'kay?

==
* Supermarket rip-offs have been with us a very long time, a critical impetus for emergence of consumer fraud bureaus; see how these pro-consumer outfits started out in the early 1970s by helping police supermarket fraud. Also read, for example, here, here and here (scroll down to "price-fixing" section on bottom third of webpage. These examples were quickly gleaned from 12,000 webpage hits for an Altavista search using the key words "overcharge" "supermarket" and "fraud".

While Las Vegas weights and measures inspectors in 2005 claimed most retail overcharges were "blameless carelessness," this 23-page online New Jersey court ruling suggests that is not the case at supermarkets throughout that state. The attorney for a determined New Jersey woman (Elizabeth Kawa) filed class-action suit against an impressive list of supermarkets for systematically overcharging her sales tax on her purchases--a gouging angel I never thought to check. On the other hand, the swarm of corporate attorneys argued, for dismissal, citing procedural technicalities, not their clients' innocence of programing their computerized registers to overcharge sales tax. Even before you get to the conclusion of the court's April 2008 ruling, you already know the judge has selected case studies that signal his dismissal of charges. See this Los Angeles suit on supermarkets "due to alleged price-fixing of milk."

And for the clincher for the suspicious supermarket consumers among us, read "Pricing Errors: Honest mistake or fraud attempt?" in the 26 July 2006 online issue of the Pocono Record.

But, of course, we know gas companies wouldn't pursue their own version of these sorts of petty pricing fraud, since they are significantly more honest than supermarkets...right?



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