Why some gas pumps in Northeast Ohio are charging customers before the gas even comes out

Posted at 11:45 AM, May 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-25 11:56:24-04

The price on the pump is climbing, but there's no gas going into the car. A rare gas pump error is popping up in Stark County that had some customers worried they might be getting scammed by their gas stations.

County officials said these malfunctions don't happen very often, but in the last two weeks, at least three gas pumps in the Canton area have charged for gas that was never pumped.

With gas nozzle in hand, Sam Tumminello quickly realized something was wrong when the price counter on a gas pump jumped to roughly 30 cents before the nozzle ever touched his car.

"I'm not sure it's supposed to do that," said Tumminello in a video posted online. "I'm holding the handle."

That's when the video blew up on Facebook, racking up 15,000 views. Sam's friend, who posted the video, changed its privacy settings to "Private" because the auditor's office was so quick to react after his complaint.

That complaint quickly found its way to Stark County Consumer Protection Supervisor Nick Owens.

"Since May 10th, we've had three, so it's very rare that they're that close together," said Owens.

Owens says the kind of problems in Sam's video and similar problems at two other Stark County gas stations are likely caused by a faulty valve, triggering the price counter when gas isn't actually being pumped.

It's tricky because a problem in the morning might not happen again a few hours later when Nick can run his tests.

"The first time we get the complaint, it's like, 'Well, I hope we can actually see it because I do believe the consumer is telling the truth," said Owens.

He says the stickers on each pump are the key. The number allows consumers to file a complaint and the QR code gives information about pump inspections.

Every pump in the county gets a routine check once a year. Still, Owens can't put a finger on why all the pumps had similar problems at the same time, but he says it's a good idea to pay attention to your pump.

"If we had three in the last two weeks, we're probably going to get more," said Owens.

In Stark County, the auditor's office shut the pumps down until they could be repaired. At least one station had the pump repaired and running accurately in about 16 hours.