Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Looking out for my money -- and yours

A rant and then a warning...

First, I literally can't spend my money fast enough.

I headed out to buy groceries and gas, a depressing task in itself, and I ran into a minor glitch at the Hess station, where I was trying to buy my $2.91 gas. The touch pad wasn't responding to my attempts to use my debit card, so I went inside to pay. For reasons that made little sense, I couldn't. The cashier said that he couldn't run the pump from inside the store (???????) and I needed to move to another pump. Well, all the pumps were occupied, and as it was, I had waited in line to get my crack at THAT one. Since I was out and about and burning precious fossil fuel, I decided to continue up the road, get my gas at the Gate, and run a quick errand. There's another Hess station almost directly across the road from the one I was leaving, and as I passed it, I checked the price: $2.91.

In the olden days of -- oh, say -- June, gas prices were predictable. Hess and Gate always ran the same prices, the Shell was five cents more. No more.

At Shell, the gas was $2.99, eight cents more. At Gate, $2.98, seven cents more. I kept on to my errand destination and decided to hit Hess #2 on the way back.

No more than 20 minutes later, errand complete, I had looped around and was headed back in the general direction of home and toward the other Hess station.

In those 20 minutes, the price went up three cents.

This seems patently unfair, and I've heard this griped about elsewhere. The gas underground is bought and paid for. It would seem fair to raise the price on the next delivery, or even at the end/beginning of the sales day, but in almost mid-pump?

I bought it anyway because, of course, I have no choice.

Later, as I passed the first station I'd visited, a fella was outside raising the price on its sign to $2.94 as well.

End of rant.

Secondly, a little sticker at the first gas station reminded of something I just recently learned. I pass it on to you in case there are no little stickers at your gas station.

If you use your debit card at a pump that does not require a PIN, the station regularly will block out an amount -- often $50 or $75 -- on your card.

That amount doesn't “un-block” as you drive away. Instead, the hold remains until that evening, and sometimes for up to several days, until the station does a “batch” transaction, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
This freeze on our bank accounts can lead to unpleasantries, most especially BOUNCED CHECKS since who among us has an extra seventy-five bucks chilling in our accounts?

The solution seems to be to know your gas stations well and know which ones allow you the debit (using the PIN) option. Not all do. Then, remember to USE the debit option. Otherwise, use cash or be prepared to have your 75 bucks frozen for several days.


Waveflux said...

I heard about this "block-out" scam on some news program or other, and was appalled. It literally amounts to theft - making use of your money, paying you no interest.


This is another reason to be wary of using debit cards. The convenience is great, but the risk scares me. Credit cards come with more safeguards in case of fraud or malfeasance.

I absolutely agree with your rant/puzzlement over price increases on inventory already paid for. I have not heard a rationale for this; hard to imagine that there is one.

Bitty said...

Maybe for those safeguards you mention, I'll quit using the check cards for gas and use the credit cards, then quickly go online and pay the credit card for the gas. I don't know.

I like using the check (debit) card because it takes the money out of my account immediately, leaving me clear about just how much I have left. But sometimes I forget and just swipe and then it's treated "like" credit and goes through the Visa company, setting me up for the $75 scam. The "block" hasn't happened to me, but the day it does...ouch.

I like using my own money rather than Capital One's because their money always ends up costing me. But the idea of a safeguard is comforting, even if I am slowly giving up the illusion that anything is really safe in this stinkin' world.