Consumer Affairs Inspectors on Guard for Gas Price Gouging
BOSTON - March 4, 2012 - Under direction from Governor Patrick, state inspectors this week are stepping up oversight efforts at gasoline stations throughout the Bay State to guard against potential price gouging, false advertising and other improper practices during this winter run-up in gasoline prices.
The Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation sent an alert to all Division of Standards field inspectors to pay close attention to "unusually high prices in any area." The nine field inspectors cover every region of the Commonwealth from Pittsfield to Provincetown, making unscheduled visits to gasoline stations to monitor not only prices but also advertising practices and product quality.
"Drivers are paying considerably more for gas than they were paying this time last year and we want to make certain that they are being charged a fair price for a necessity," said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "While price gouging is not common, Governor Patrick and I want drivers to know that we will not tolerate unfair business practices as consumers cope with these extremely high gas prices."
Nationwide, the price of regular gasoline has risen to $3.74 a gallon, with the average price in Massachusetts trailing by only one cent at $3.73 a gallon, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report of nearly 100,000 self-serve gas stations. Gasoline prices have risen 11 weeks in a row, according to AAA. Last year at this time, Bay State drivers were paying $3.30 for a gallon of gasoline, according to the survey.
"As with most purchases, we strongly urge consumers to shop around for the best price," Anthony added. "But it is unconscionable for any service station to profiteer during these difficult economic times. If we find any such cases we will pursue enforcement actions with vigor."
Division of Standards inspectors will pay close attention to gas stations that are outliers for pricing compared to other stations in their immediate vicinity. Inspectors also check for product quality - such as octane accuracy - as well as compliance with new advertising and signage requirements.
For example, when a station raises its prices for gasoline, the street sign must be changed before the actual pump price. Also, if marquee prices at a gas station are tied to a discount for paying with cash, getting a car wash, or other incentive, the incentive must be clearly labeled. Stations also must list their cash and credit prices.
"We’ll also be looking for any fraudulent advertising practices such as advertising one price on a street sign and having another at the pump," said Charles Carroll, Director of the Division of Standards.
"Before a driver pulls up to the pump, he or she should have a clear indication of the cost for a certain level of gas and whether there are any conditions on that price."
Service stations that violate advertising or signage rules can be fined up to $375 per violation. If any alleged instances of price gouging are found, inspectors immediately will inform the Attorney General’s office for further investigation and potential prosecution.
Drivers and consumers who believe they have been victimized by a gasoline station should call the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation at 888-283-3757 toll free and file a complaint. Consumers should provide as much specific information - such as the location of the service station, time of incident, and type of incident - as possible.
"We are confident that the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts gas station owners are doing the right thing by their customers," Anthony said. "But we want the other small contingent to know that we are watching very closely during this period of time."
The Division of Standards is part of the Patrick-Murray Administration’s comprehensive consumer protection effort, which focuses on enabling better businesses and smarter consumers through information and updates on important issues and advocating for the rights of consumers. The Division is responsible for enforcing the accuracy requirements and other standards relating to weighing and measuring devices and their use in the sale of food, fuel and other products.
ADVISORY: PHONE INTERVIEWS WITH UNDERSECRETARY BARBARA ANTHONY CAN BE SCHEDULED BY DAN ROSENFELD
Contact - Dan Rosenfeld, Director of Communications, O-617-973-8767, C- 617-875-5968