$9.99 a gallon? Officials receive complaints about price gouging at NC gas stations

·4 min read

A 35-minute wait in line led to truck driver Clarissa Rankin making a TikTok video of herself paying $9.99 per gallon for $90 worth of mid-grade gas at an Exxon station in north Charlotte Wednesday night.

“I cannot make this up,” Rankin told the Observer during a call on Thursday. “ I cannot make this up!”

Before heading home, Rankin stopped at the Exxon Mobil at 1339 W. Sugar Creek Road around 9:30 p.m. to get some gas for her personal vehicle, she said.

Not really paying attention to the price sign, Rankin said she began pumping and noticed the total increasing rapidly until it reached $90. At that moment, she reached for her phone and began recording.

“TikTok, I cannot make this up, I just got off work and gas is $9 a gallon,” Rankin said in the video on her popular account, where she shares stories about life as a truck driver with her 1.1 million followers.

“They are only letting you get nine gallons of gas, I know you’re lying, see why did he have to say it’s a state of emergency?” she asked, referring to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s declaration earlier this week after a ransomware attack interrupted service at Colonial Pipeline, a major fuel supplier to the region.

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State officials have received 622 complaints of gas price gouging in North Carolina as of Thursday morning, according to N.C. Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Brewer. Six are tied to the Exxon station on West Sugar Creek Road out of nearly 60 in Mecklenburg County.

An employee who answered the phone at the gas station Thursday said the store manager was out of town, and asked an Observer reporter to call back. A second call went to a voicemail that hadn’t been set up.

According to Observer news partner WBTV, gas station owner Rey Shah denied any intention of price gouging and said high prices were meant to deter people from draining the pumps.

“I promise you there’s no price gouging. We’re not in this to make a quick buck,” Shah told a WBTV reporter.

ExxonMobil no longer owns or operates any Exxon- or Mobil-branded service stations in the United States, spokeswoman Julie King wrote in an email Thursday. Local stations set their own prices, she said.

On Thursday, a reporter observed the station’s prices were down to $3.19 for regular gasoline, $3.79 for mid-grade and $3.99 for premium.

What is price gouging?

North Carolina’s price gouging law took effect this week during major gasoline outages related to the pipeline attack.

“I will not allow businesses to take advantage of this incident to charge excessive prices,” Attorney General Josh Stein said in a statement Tuesday announcing the measure.

The law prohibits businesses from excessively raising prices during a crisis and goes into effect when the governor declares a state of emergency, according to Stein’s statement.

Businesses severely impacted by incidents that prompt a state of emergency may “have a reasonable need to increase prices in order to resupply, but they should disclose these increases and allow people to make informed purchasing decisions,” the announcement read in part.

“Businesses cannot, however, unreasonably raise the price of goods or services to profit from a state of emergency.”

People are encouraged to report suspected price gouging by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing an online complaint at ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/price-gouging.

A dispute over gas prices

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police responded to a dispute between two customers and and an employee over gas prices at the Exxon station on West Sugar Creek around the same time Rankin recorded the video, department spokesperson Thomas Hildebrand wrote in an email to the Observer.

“As a result of the investigation, it was determined that no crime occurred, but two of the subjects involved had outstanding warrants and were placed under arrest,” Hildebrand said. “There were no charges related to the incident that occurred at the gas station. “

There have been no major signs of “gas rage” or major incidents in Charlotte, CMPD Capt. Brad Koch said at a news conference Wednesday.

Officers are responding to 911 calls for service, but CMPD asks residents to call 311 for non-emergency requests or go to CMPD.org to file reports.

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