Ripped off at the gas station: what should you do?


My brother called me today to tell me about an unfortunate incident at a gas station. Short on money at the moment, he told the attendant that he wanted $20 worth of gas and the clerk promptly filled the tank and told him he owed $60. My brother protested and the clerk was reasonably apologetic but told him there was nothing he could do. Being a heck of a nice guy, my brother paid the money and went on his way -- short on cash for other expenses.

Of course there's an argument to be made that this isn't really a ripoff. He would have needed to fill the car up eventually and with gas prices rising daily, the clerk may have actually done him a favor. But consumers have a right to decide how much gas they want to buy, and if you want $20 worth of gas, you shouldn't have to buy $60.

My brother's a mensch so it's no big deal but what are some other options he might had? As I see it, he could have done one of two things in this situation:

  • Tell the clerk you don't have the money and that your credit cards are all maxed out and your checking account is already overdrawn and that you're sorry but all you can do is give him $25 in cash. Tell him that if he wants the gas back, he's welcome to suck it out with a straw.

  • Ask to speak with the manager and, if one isn't available and you are really aggravated and have a lot of time on your hands, tell the clerk that you're going to have to call the police to find out what to do. You can bet that his manager won't be too happy to find out the cops were called to resolve a dispute over his error. He may be motivated to find a way to make it right.

Still, I think that letting it go and paying the $60 is the best way to handle it, karmically at least. Has anyone else had this experience? How did you handle it?