THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Update: Gas pains and loan scams

Several recent Tough Customer columns could use some updating in response to reader questions and comments. So, without further ado...

Unsurprisingly, a number of readers were skeptical about my explanation of why gasoline prices are higher in Charlottesville than in Richmond ["Gas fuming: Why a gallon costs less in Richmond than here," Nov. 6]. They wondered why, for one thing, if transporting gasoline from Richmond to Charlottesville added a nickel per gallon, it didn't add a few more pennies to get gasoline to Waynesboro or Staunton, which are even further from Richmond, and where gasoline seemed to be cheaper than, or at least comparably priced to, here.

That's a good question; and it's one with a logical explanation. David Sutton, president of Tiger Fuels, had explained to me that a pipeline terminal in Montvale, which is just outside of Roanoke, served those areas, so transportation costs end up being roughly equal.

Others questioned Sutton's explanation that, all else being equal, the major factor in gasoline pricing from area to area was the rate of inventory turnover. According to Sutton, in more crowded places where inventory turnover was more rapid, like Richmond, retail prices more quickly reflect changes in wholesale prices both on the way up and the way down.

In fact, gasoline price movements since that column bear out Sutton's explanation.

A month ago, according to the AAA, the average price of a gallon of gas in Charlottesville was at $2.24 per gallon, while in Richmond it was $2.08. On Dec. 5, however, a gallon in Charlottesville was $1.73, while in Richmond it was $1.65.

That is exactly the kind of price movement Sutton's explanation would predict.

Thus, in early November when prices were first beginning their plunge, the difference in the cost of a gallon between Charlottesville and Richmond, adjusted for the extra nickel in transportation cost, was 11 cents, or 5.2 per cent.

Over the last month, however, presumably as the rate of the wholesale price slowed and inventory has turned over in the Charlottesville market, that difference has narrowed. Now, the difference is only 3 cents per gallon, or 1.8 per cent.

Still, one reader took me to task for what he perceived as my gullibility in accepting Sutton's explanation. "As if these same guys take longer to raise the price," he wrote. "Come on!  Every time oil went up on the stock market these guys were raising the price every day!  What cave do you live in?"


Last week's column on the advance fee loan scam ["$1,700 lost: Online 'loan' threatens Virginia's good name," December 4] has seen several developments. First, the company that appears to have ripped off Carley Green, Oakdale Lending, is no longer to be found on the web. I'm not celebrating, however; I'm guessing a new site under another name is already up and running.

Second, David Clementson, a media spokesman for Attorney General Bob McDonnell, wrote me that the advance fee loan scam "is an issue that our office has addressed extensively."

He led me to a June 2007 "Consumer Alert of the Month" McDonnell issued about the scam.

"The con artists are in Canada," McDonnell wrote, "but their loan documents claim they're based" in Virginia. "Our office is looking into this scam."

That's good, although it was 18 months ago, and people are still being ripped off.

To report a scam, the Attorney General's alert says you can call the consumer hotline at 1-800-451-1525 or access online reporting forms at

In any event, the AG's "Consumer Alert of the Month" is a helpful resource. An archive can be found at

Among other alerts, check out October's, which covers gas price gouging. I hung it up on the wall of my cave.


Finally, a recent column about Colleen Miller and Brown Automotive Group ["Credit hunch: Camry-buyer's loan burned by dealer inquiries," November 20] said that Brown had hired a fire expert to look into the causes of a fire in Miller's Camry. I wrote that according to Miller, Brown paid for the expert. Brown Group Sales Director, Jay Malone, wrote to tell me that Brown and Miller's fiancée split the cost of the expert. I have been unable to reach Miller to confirm whether her fiancée shared in the cost.


Got a consumer situation? Call the Hook newsroom at 434-295-8700x405 or e-mail the Tough Customer directly.