[NOTE: Blog commenters should read our updates (below) and the Washington Attorney General's blog comment policy. Note that this is the Washington State AGO - we aren't the contact for the Florida AGO's case. For your privacy, we do not post your contact information on our Web site. Thank you. Kristin, All Consuming Moderator.]
As gas prices rose earlier this year, so did the number of consumers fuming about so-called free gas offers.
Vouchers offering free gas appeal to not only drivers, but also businesses looking for a low-cost promotional tool to lure potential customers to car dealerships, seminars, etc. But these incentives can be misleading.
Complaints sent to the Attorney General’s Consumer Resource Centers and blog comments posted to All Consuming reveal a similar pattern: these “free gas” vouchers aren’t easy to redeem. In order to qualify, consumers usually have to purchase at least $100 of gas per month from a specific brand (eg: Exxon, Shell, Citgo, etc.) then mail those receipts to a business. In return, they receive a gift card for $25 to be used for fuel at the same station brand. One Washington consumer who followed strict redemption steps said the gift card he received can't be used at any of the gas stations in his community. In fact, he was told it can only be redeemed at certain stations in a handful of other states -- the closest is Minnesota!
Since we first posted this story in November, we've received more than 160 comments from consumers across the nation who have sent in their paperwork but not received the advertised rebates.
A Vancouver, Wash., car dealer must reimburse customers who responded to one such promotion that the Washington Attorney General’s Office says was deceptive. Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants, Inc., was behind the rebate program. Under the agreement, Curt Warner Chevrolet must make good by providing a $40 gas card – that works – to each eligible consumer. For more information, see this news release.
According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, the Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services in Florida has opened a criminal investigation into the company. Separately, company president Crystal Clark pled guilty to drug trafficking charges for selling Oxycontin.
Where to complain:
- If you have a claim against Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants and Crystal Clark and you have not already filed a complaint with the Florida AG, you are encouraged to file a complaint with the court-appointed receiver. See Web site and claim forms at http://www.tidewatermarketing.com/.
- Pinellas County Department of Justice and Consumer Services at www.pinellascounty.org/
consumer or (727) 464-6200.
The really bad news: Unfortunately, Tidewater is reportedly broke. The St. Petersburg Times, which has been following the story, wrote on March 7: Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants, a Largo-Clearwater based company, owes customers more than $10 million but has
This photo of the Tidewater Marketing Global Consultants Fulfillment Center shows vouchers spilling out onto the floor. Source: Florida Attorney General
less than $300 in its bank accounts. It has no real property, no cars. The story quotes a state-appointed receiver as saying it's extremely unlikely the company would ever be able to redeem the certificates and issue cards.
BBZ Resource Management of Mesa, Ariz., is another company that sells "free gas" and "free grocery" certificates on a bunch of Web sites including freefuelcenter.com, claimyourgas.com and petroleumpromotions.com. Owner Troy Warren, reportedly has had other legal troubles, according to this St. Petersburg Times story. All Consuming blog readers have posted mixed comments about this company. UPDATE: The company has filed for bankruptcy, according to this July 1, 2009, story.
KING 5 aired a report on Dec. 10, 2008 about Gasoline Redemption Center aka Free Gas Central. Reporter Jesse Jones said:"I called the people behind Free Gas Central, now called Gasoline Redemption Center. They told me the company had a catastrophic computer failure this summer and they are about 30 days behind on orders, and they rushed Betty's card right out."The report listed a toll-free phone number for Gasoline Redemption Center that is no longer in service.
All Consuming continues to receive many comments from consumers about gas vouchers. The blog is for informal discussions; all comments are reviewed by the blog moderator prior to posting. Please note that comments posted to our blog are not processed as formal complaints or considered requests for informal mediation. If you are a Washington state resident or are writing about a business located in Washington state, you may wish to contact our Consumer Resource Center to file a complaint and/or request informal mediation. Residents of other states may wish to file complaints with their Attorney General's Office, the AGO in the state where the business operates or the Better Business Bureau. As a standard policy, the Washington Attorney General's Office does not confirm which businesses it is currently investigating or may investigate.