A proposed class action claims Shell Oil Company has misled consumers into believing they will be charged a lower “cash” price for gasoline purchased with a debit card when, in truth, they are charged a higher “credit” price.
According to the 24-page suit, Shell’s pricing practices run contrary to consumers’ expectations given debit cards are commonly considered a form of cash.
“Shell’s pricing scheme is false, deceptive, and misleading to reasonable consumers who purchase gasoline with a debit card because, contrary to the expectations of reasonable consumers, Shell treats debit cards like credit cards, charging unsuspecting consumers the higher ‘credit’ price rather than the advertised ‘cash’ price,” the lawsuit out of Florida alleges.
The case claims the defendant’s “payment processing scheme” amounts to a “knowing, intentional, and deliberate” attempt to increase its own profits at the expense of consumers, “many of whom cannot afford to take an additional financial hit from Shell,” the suit says.
Per the complaint, Shell is “number one in the industry in branded gasoline stations,” and serves an average of six million customers per day. One way the defendant generates additional sales, the case says, is through “split pricing,” a two-tiered pricing program through which gasoline is sold at a “credit” price and “cash” price that sits about $0.10 lower per gallon. Shell’s split pricing is advertised at the fuel pumps and on exterior signage at many gas stations, the suit notes.
According to the lawsuit, consumers consider debit cards to be a form of cash given debit payments are deducted directly from a cardholder’s checking or savings account. Moreover, cardholders are not required to demonstrate a positive credit history in order to obtain a debit card, the suit states.
“[V]irtually anyone with a checking account can obtain a debit card to spend the money in their checking account in a safe and convenient manner,” the complaint reads. “Reasonable consumers who cannot obtain a credit card, including low income earning Americans and those with poor credit histories, are very aware of the fact that their debit card is not a credit card.”
The lawsuit alleges Shell has “deliberately designed” its split pricing signage in a deceptive manner in order to increase its profits at the expense of unknowing consumers, who even when dispensing their gas would be unlikely to notice the price discrepancy given the small difference between the two prices.
“Despite having actual knowledge that consumers find Shell’s debit card processing policy to be deceptive, Shell deliberately refuses to disclose its debit card processing policy in order to continue profiting off the resulting consumer deception,” the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit claims Shell’s deceptive advertising has caused “massive damage” to Florida consumers since there are over 400 Shell gas stations in the state and debit card transactions account for more than half of gasoline purchased at those stations.
The suit looks to represent anyone who, within the past four years, paid for Shell-branded gasoline with a debit card in Florida and was charged a “credit” price that was higher than the “cash” price.
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