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Gas fraud not prevalent in Wilson County

Jake Old • Updated Nov 18, 2016 at 8:00 AM

When pre-paying for fuel at a gas station, is there any way to know for sure that the proper amount of gasoline is dispensed?

Jeremy Traughber, a Lebanon Democrat reader, had concerns that he was shorted at a Watertown gas station, so he contacted the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. The department enforces regulations for fuel pumps in the state, and encourages citizens to submit such complaints when necessary.

Officials from the Department of Agriculture visit gas stations around the state to do annual inspections on fuel pumps. When a complaint comes in, officials will do another inspection.

According to Department of Agriculture spokesperson Samantha Jean, the inspections are done at random days and times.

“They really have no idea when the inspections will be,” Jean said. “They don’t have any notice or anything like that. Our guys just show up and start pumping gas.”

Inspections check for safety hazards and accuracy in fuel dispensing. Accuracy is measured with a five-gallon container that has been tested by officials with the agriculture department’s weights and balances division.

Fuel is dispensed into the container, and then officials measure the contents to determine how accurate the fuel pump was.

Since July, there have been more than 100 complaints about practices at gas stations in Tennessee. Gas stations in Wilson County account for just eight of those complaints.

Of the eight complaints in Wilson County, four were about the accuracy of a fuel pump, while the others were suspicions of a card skimming device or complaints about an unreadable screen.

Traughber’s complaint was at Three Forks Market Place in Watertown. He confronted management about the complaint before going to the state.

William Shults, owner of Three Forks Market Place, said it was the first time he received a complaint of not receiving enough fuel.

“We pump over a million gallons of gas in a year, and I have never had anyone accuse me of not pumping enough fuel,” Shults said. “I remember the incident (with Traughber), and I told him I wasn’t sure what he could do, aside from contacting the state.”

The Department of Agriculture performed an inspection at Three Forks Market Place on Oct. 31 and determined that some of the pumps were slow, but still accurate. One pump was found to be inaccurate, but it was actually dispensing too much fuel, causing the customer to get slightly more than the paid amount.

“There wasn’t any evidence of (Three Forks Market Place) shorting anyone,” Jean said.

Shults said that gas pumps normally slow down at a certain point due to a filter in the pump.

“We had that issue with one or two pumps, but we went ahead and changed them all anyway,” Shults said.

Gas stations have 30 days to correct any issues discovered in an inspection. At that point, officials will return to re-inspect the pumps. If there are still issues, it could result in civil penalties or a cease of operations.

The other three complaints of fuel pump accuracy at Wilson County gas stations in recent months also received inspections, and each gas station passed the inspection.

“Our guys found them all to be accurate and within our tolerance level,” Jean said.

According to Jean, most issues with fuel pump accuracy are similar to the one reported at Three Forks Market Place. The consumer actually gets more than what was paid.

“More often than not, it’s something that is in the consumer’s favor,” she said. “We notify the gas station, of course, because we know they don’t want to be giving it away.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, no gas stations in Wilson County had failed an inspection due to an inaccurate measurement from a fuel pump during this fiscal year.

Anyone who suspects inaccuracy at a fuel pump should contact Ed Coleman with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture at ed.coleman@tn.gov or 1-800-628-2631. 

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