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TMCNet:  The Record (Hackensack, N.J.), Your Money's Worth column

[February 27, 2013]

The Record (Hackensack, N.J.), Your Money's Worth column

Feb 27, 2013 (The Record (Hackensack - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- It was only two days and the savings were less than a penny, but it was still encouraging to see: Gasoline prices fell over the weekend after increasing for each of the previous 33 days.

Alas, they were back up a half-cent a gallon on Tuesday, but it does seem as if pump prices have leveled off, at least for now.

The average price for regular in the Bergen-Passaic area was $3.648 a gallon on Tuesday, down from $3.652 on Saturday, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge survey.

That's a bargain compared to prices in neighboring states, including New York ($4.01), Connecticut ($3.99) and Pennsylvania ($3.80), but still a lot higher than the average price of $3.323 on Jan. 21, before the increases began.

The leveling off is probably temporary, because prices usually increase from late winter through Memorial Day as refineries close for maintenance and switch to more expensive summer blends. They do that every year, but every year investors react as if it's a big surprise and push prices higher.

But I'm thankful for any relief because this has been a frustrating time for drivers. Supplies are up and demand is down. So why are we paying more for gasoline As a recent McClatchy news service report pointed out, more than anything else, you can blame speculators.

Consider this. According to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, commercial end-users of oil such as airlines and trucking companies, that once made up 70 percent of the market for future deliveries of oil, now represent just 30 percent.

Instead, non-commercial financial speculators -- Wall Street banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions that have no intention of taking delivery of oil -- now dominate, with 70 percent of the market.

They seem to be betting on better economic times ahead by pushing the futures' market higher, but we're stuck paying through higher prices today.

And what about domestic oil shortages, cited a few years back as justification for an environmentally unfriendly drill-baby-drill campaign According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States now produces more than half the oil it consumes, with the largest one-year jump in production since drilling began in 1859, and production is expected to continue rising, even as global demand for oil is expected to fall.

While we continue to import oil from the Middle East, we also have enough supplies that more than 3 million barrels of fuel produced at U.S. refineries are now exported each day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Half of that goes to countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

More scams Last week's column about an apparent phishing expedition under the guise of a supposed warning from PayPal raised concerns from Jacques, a reader from Mahwah, who received an email similar to the one I described.

"I did go to PayPal's website as asked, used my former password and had no problem to log in," he wrote.

Jacques said he changed his password as requested, but he doesn't remember if he gave his Social Security and credit card numbers.

"I checked my credit card website and bank account today, and noted nothing unusual," he said. "What do you suggest I do " It pays to be cautious and assume that the email was bogus. If he has any question about the security of an online account, he should change the password immediately.

More important, he should continue monitoring his account, because in many cases of identity theft, the crooks lie low for several months before trying to cash in.

Also, I can't emphasize enough: Do not respond directly to emails seeking personal information, regardless how legit they may seem. If you want to contact the company, go to its website directly, not through the link on the email you received, and call the customer service number listed there.

My column also warned of telephone calls supposedly from "Windows 24/7 support," offering to fix a computer problem you didn't even know exists.

Chris Vignola Brown of Lyndhurst took care of the calls in quick, easy fashion.

"I told them send me it in writing," she said. "They replied they could not do that, so I hung up." Email: demarrais@northjersey.com Blog: northjersey.com/moneyblog ___ (c)2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) Visit The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) at www.NorthJersey.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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