WATERTOWN - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has issued cease and desist letters warning several Watertown gas station locations that they will face possible court action if they do not stop falsely advertising one price, and then charging customers more at the pump.

In recent days, the Attorney General's Watertown Regional Office sent letters to the owners of Valentine Stores, Inc., Rajit Inc. and General Store, Inc. stating they needed to discontinue the deceptive roadside marketing and get into compliance.

At least four of the Nice N Easy gas stations, owned by Valentine Stores, with locations throughout Watertown, the Valero Gas Station on Arsenal Street, and the General Store on Bradley Street engaged in false advertising by listing the lower prices on their large street-view signage in order to lure patrons to the pump. The lower price was for "cash only" transactions. The only text displayed to passing motorists indicating that this was the "cash" price was small and not easily visible.

"What these gas stations did is a classic example of bait and switch. Consumers were lured in by the lower price but when they went to fill up their tanks, they were hit with a higher price if they didn't pay with cash," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "At a time when gas prices are high enough already, my office will work to make sure consumers are not tricked into paying a penny more by such deceptive practices."

The announcement comes at a time when reports show gasoline prices this summer are on average one dollar higher than they were at this time last year. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA) the current average price for gasoline in New York State is $3.97. Last year at this time, the average price was $2.91.

Attorney General Schneiderman is continuing to monitor gas prices throughout the state on all levels, from the gas retailer, distributor and manufacturer. Prices at the pump have led to an increase in consumer complaints to the Attorney General’s office, and Schneiderman has directed his staff to compile data on the prices charged by gas retailers, as well as information on the chain of distribution, to determine the cause behind the continued increases.

Schneiderman has also been appointed to a national Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group instituted by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, joining a team to investigate any abuse of consumers in the pricing of oil and gasoline.

The roadside listing of a price without equally prominent disclosure of the higher standard price for credit purchases violates the New York Executive Law 63 (12) prohibition against deceptive acts and practices, as well as the General Business Law.

Consumers who see gas stations prominently advertising a low price on primary signage and then indicating at the pump that credit card customers will be charged more are urged to contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Helpline at 1-800-771-7755