Gas is over $6 a gallon at this N.J. station. How do you know when it’s price gouging?

New Jersey broke a record for the highest gas prices ever on Sunday at $4.09 for a gallon of regular and prices continued increasing daily since then. But there are gas prices in the state that are much higher, leading drivers to wonder if they’re being gouged.

What could be the highest price in the state, $6.79 a gallon for regular, was reported at an Exxon station on Route 202-206 in Bedminister, by GasBuddy.com on Friday. The average price for a gallon of regular was $4.37 in the state, GasBuddy said.

How do you know when its price gouging?

Price gouging is hard to define, especially with gas prices changing daily, said Robert Sinclair, a AAA Northeast spokesman who analyzes gas prices. An unofficial practice in the gasoline industry is zoning pricing, where stations in affluent areas, and some poor towns and off interstate highways, charge higher prices than the state average.

“It occurs when the price is 10% to 15% higher than the median price…above, it’s gouging,” he said. “People have a hard time defining it, even consumer authorities.”

Gas prices in New Jersey are not allowed to be changed more than once a day under state law, said Gema DeLasHeras, a state Attorney General’s office spokeswoman. The Division of Consumer Affairs is part of that office.

“While high prices alone may be a reflection of market forces rather than price gouging, whether any particular gas price increase violates any law enforced by the Division of Consumer Affairs is a fact-sensitive inquiry that depends on a number of individual circumstances,” she said.

The cost of gasoline routinely fluctuates based on a number of factors, including the market price per barrel of oil, which fell to $105 per barrel, down from a high of $123 per barrel on Tuesday, according to NASDAQ.. Prices have been rising rapidly across New Jersey, the United States, and around the world since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she said.

Consumers who suspect excessive price increases at the pump or any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the Division by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 to receive a complaint form by mail.

“Someone who sees a price that’s $2 above the median and you’d have to think it’s gouging,” Sinclair said. “They’d (gas station owners) say their expenses are high, it’s the cost of doing business and they have higher transportation costs.”

The last price gouging warning by the state was issued by the state Division of Consumer Affairs on Sept. 3, 2021 after Hurricane Ida, which included gas.

That warning referred to a state price gouging law prohibiting excessive price increases during a declared State of Emergency and for 30 days after it’s over. Under that law, an excessive price increase is considered any price exceeding 10 percent of the price the product or service was sold for prior to the State of Emergency.

Drivers who believe they’re the victim of price gouging can file a general complaint, on the state Division of Consumer Affairs website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 to receive a complaint form by mail, DeLasHeras said.

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Larry Higgs may be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com.

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