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Online gas card vendor gets 'F'

A report questions how MyGallons.com processes transactions.

July 04, 2008|Elizabeth Douglass | Times Staff Writer

With gasoline prices at nosebleed levels, MyGallons.com sounds like a great deal: Pre-purchase gasoline through the website and save cash as the price climbs.

But pumpers should beware.

In a new report, the Better Business Bureau gave Miami-based MyGallons.com an "F" rating, citing what it called "a material omission of fact" in the publicity material distributed as part of the service's launch Monday.

"It's just like in school, so 'F' is obviously bad," said Alison Preszler, a spokeswoman for the bureau. "We're not calling this a scam. . . . We just have serious concerns."

The company said its gas- redemption program used the Voyager fleet network, a bank-card processing service owned by U.S. Bank. But it has become clear that MyGallons.com doesn't have a deal with the bank and currently doesn't have any other card processor in place, Preszler said.

"This is obviously a huge red flag for the Better Business Bureau, because they don't have the most basic system up," she said.

MyGallons.com founder Steven Verona said it had an agreement to use the Voyager network through a regional reseller and had processed its card transactions through that system during a three-month trial that recently ended. Verona said he believed his contract was still in effect when he issued the news release about the program's launch.

Verona supplied the Los Angeles Times with an electronic copy of a June 15 invoice from the reseller, Go Gas Universal. The bill, which includes an account number and MyGallons' address, lists a total due of $847.70 for 208 gallons of gas purchased in Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

"We had an agreement with them. We've agreed to go our separate ways, and we are replacing them with one of their competitors," Verona said in an interview Thursday. "We'll have a big announcement on Monday or Tuesday with the replacement."

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp provided a statement Thursday saying: "Neither U.S. Bank National Association ND, nor Voyager Fleet Systems Inc. have a contract to do business with MyGallons.com LLC, and there are no ongoing negotiations to enter into any agreement with MyGallons."

U.S. Bank didn't say whether it once had a contract with MyGallons.com, either through the bank or through a regional reseller, and a spokeswoman was unable to immediately verify MyGallons' claims about Go Gas. Officials at Go Gas Universal couldn't be reached.

Verona was surprised to hear that his company had been given an "F" grade. "I'm looking forward to straightening this out with the Better Business Bureau," he said.

The report was posted Wednesday by the Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida and the Caribbean.

"They're saying to the public, here are the gas stations where you can go and use this card. Yet there's no ability for the card to be utilized," said Michael Galvin, a vice president at the Florida bureau. "They have to prove to us that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing, and right now their advertising is erroneous."

The bureau made no assessment of MyGallons' business model, which allows consumers to contract to buy gasoline at current prices and store the credit on a debit-like card. The company said the prepaid gas card could be redeemed at a long list of filling stations, including major brands such as Shell and Chevron.

Annual memberships cost $29.95 or $39.95 and there is a $1.95 fee each time customers refill their cards.

MyGallons said it was investing most of the customer money in low-risk accounts, with 20% of it used to purchase fuel-price hedges.

A similar membership service from GasBank USA is set to launch this year. The Boynton Beach, Fla.-based company also would issue debit-like cards that could be used at nearly any gas station -- but the company's website doesn't say who will process the financial transactions.

In 2000, a Priceline.com affiliate launched a program that allowed users to name their price for gasoline, but the unit, Priceline WebHouse Club, went out of business later that year.

Verona, 39, has been involved in a string of companies including DB Net Ventures Inc. in Upper Darby, Pa.; Jewish Jeans Clothing in Columbus, Ohio; and an online store called Pursue Peace Clothing. Verona confirmed that he filed for personal bankruptcy in Ohio in 2001.

MyGallons.com's Monday launch got widespread publicity. Verona said the site had signed up 6,000 members. Customers will be sent cards once the company finalizes a deal with a replacement processing firm, he said.

"Things are going great," Verona said in an interview. "We've gotten a tremendous response from the public, and we're very excited."

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elizabeth.douglass@latimes.com

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