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Am I being gouged on price of gas?

Posted September 19
Updated September 20

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— Gas prices spiked over the weekend because a pipeline shutdown created some shortages in fuel across North Carolina, but state officials say it's too early to determine whether any stations are guilty of price gouging.

Gov. Pat McCrory put the state's price gouging law into effect on Friday, and about 1,000 people had filed complaints by Tuesday with the Consumer Protection Division of the state Attorney General's Office.

State law defines price gouging as charging "a price that is unreasonably excessive under the circumstances." There is no set price or percentage increase defined in the law, so it can apply to different products and services in times of crisis.

"Unreasonably excessive" can sometimes be hard to prove. Officials look at a number of factors when investigating complaints, including the average price in the previous 60 days and any additional costs the station or distributor had to pay in getting gas to the pumps.

For example, someone complained about Sheetz charging $9.99 a gallon at a station in King on Monday, but the company said stations post that when they have run out of gas and aren't actually charging that price.

Attorney General Roy Cooper issued subpoenas Monday to a gas station and a wholesaler in Guilford County after the station reportedly was selling gas for $4.50 a gallon. On Tuesday, subpoenas were issued to gas stations in Smithfield, Winston-Salem and Stokesdale, each of which were charging $3.99 or more per gallon, officials said.

"A supply crunch shouldn’t be an excuse to rip off people who need gas," Cooper said in a statement.

People can report price gouging through the Consumer Protection Division website or by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM toll-free in North Carolina or 919-716-6000. They can submit copies of receipts or send photos of price signs to support their complaints.

Stations found in violation of the law can face fines of up to $5,000 for each violation, with all fines going to support public schools. The Attorney General's Office also tries to win refunds for consumers whenever possible, such as $71,000 won from 14 gas stations the last time the price gouging law was in effect, which was when Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast eight years ago, shutting down some refineries.

10 Comments

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  • John Townsend Sep 21, 12:24 a.m.
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    Since the main target is small businesses when it comes to gas station owners, they can't afford the expense to fight such charges. The state doesn't have to win, the process is the punishment.

  • Aiden Audric Sep 20, 3:49 p.m.
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    The statute (§ 75-38., abbreviated by me because of the 1000-char limit):

    In determining whether a price is unreasonably excessive, it shall be considered whether:
    (1) The price charged by the seller is attributable to additional costs imposed by the seller's supplier...
    (2) The price charged by the seller exceeds the seller's average price in the preceding 60 days ...
    (3) The price charged by the seller is attributable to fluctuations in applicable commodity markets....

    The statute has a lot more detail, but it seems fairly solid.

  • Chris VanderHaven Sep 20, 11:38 a.m.
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    Prices for gas are absolutely price gouging. When there's a disruption somewhere, prices immediately go up, regardless of whether the effect has reached the station. Then, the prices stay high even after the disruption has been fixed. It's always this way.

  • John Townsend Sep 20, 10:25 a.m.
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    The anti-gouging laws are what cause this kind of panic to lead to supply problems. If gas prices were allowed to go up two groups of people would have an incentive to change their behavior:
    1-Consumers would have an incentive to conserve fuel and use less and discouraged from hoarding since the high prices make hoarding costly.

    2-Suppliers would have an incentive to divert resources from places without supply problems in order to take advantage of the higher profits to be made.

    Both of these will put downward pressure on gas prices until it reaches an equilibrium and, in this case, the pipes get fixed.

    What is happening now is government price fixing which basically lets the first person to show up to the pump get gas for less than it is worth so they are encouraged to hoard fuel. (fill up containers and/or top off with half a tank).

  • Clif Bardwell Sep 20, 9:27 a.m.
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    Gouging or no, it doesn't matter...

    When the leak was first detected, within hours the price of gas shot up 10¢, 15¢ and even 20¢ and more.

    Once the leak is fixed and the gas flows again, will the price come back down just as fast? No, it will be months before the price comes back down to pre-leak levels (if at all).

  • Jim Frei Sep 20, 9:27 a.m.
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    By allowing the free market to set whatever price the market will bear, supplies will appear to meet the demand. Anti-gouging laws only serve to limit supplies. Example: There's plenty of gas in Savannah and Philadelphia. You can hire your own truck to go fetch it at $5/gal or let your local C-store sell it at $3/ gal....your choice.

  • Steve Faulkner Sep 20, 8:19 a.m.
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    This law seems very subjective to me, and therefore un-enforceable.

  • Bryan Jeffries Sep 20, 8:06 a.m.
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    "I know everything about price gouging" -Random internet nobody

  • Anita Gibson Sep 19, 10:23 p.m.
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    Just because all others are out of gas and you are forced to go back to pay one stations ridiculous price doesn't make it worth it. That is what is at the base of gouging. It usually goes by what that station had to pay for the gas, so if he paid a law and price and had reserves before all this happened and then decided that since all others were out that he could charge what he wanted and people would be forced to pay it makes it illegal. At this point it isn't about supply and demand. Now once all these stations have to truck gas in from far off or pay a higher price to the supplier then they can be expected to pass that on to the customer and raise those prices, but only to a certain percentage. But then again anyone gouging at a time like this, when it's all over and things go back to normal customers will remember that and they might lose a lot of business and it would serve them right. You just can't take an unfair advantage of people and expect not to suffer the consequences.

  • Josh Anderson Sep 19, 8:09 p.m.
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    Gouging is the word used by people who don't understand the very basics of supply and demand. If you feel that something is not worth what is being charged, move on down the road. If no one else has it and you have to go back, desperate for the product, then it is obviously worth what is being charged to the person who already has it and values it. If he can't sell it at the price that he is charging, he will lower the price.