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Gas prices inadvertently hit a new high Saturday when a clerical error nearly quadrupled the price Americans using fuel ration cards paid for fuel at Esso stations in Germany.

The mistake left customers shelling out anywhere from $7.68 to $12.52 per gallon at stations throughout the country for the entire day.

"Due to an input error, prices for all grades of fuel purchased at Esso Stations throughout Germany on Saturday … were inaccurate and resulted in customers being overcharged," according to an AAFES news release. "The error was corrected at midnight Saturday night and only affected transactions on Saturday, December 20th."

An AAFES employee caused the snafu by plugging the wrong price into a central database. The mistake resulted in each liter of gas being priced as if it were a gallon, magnifying prices by a factor of 3.785 — the number of liters in a gallon.

"Any customer who purchased Gas from an ESSO station on Saturday, December 20, 2008, will be reimbursed the difference between what they should have been charged and what they were charged at any AAFES fuel ration card issue and activation site," the AAFES release said.

AAFES workers are sifting through 248 pages of fuel transaction data to determine exactly how many people bought fuel at the inflated prices, and where the overcharges happened. Some communities were likely harder hit than others. Heidelberg, for example, has no on-post gas stations, so most motorists get fuel at off-base Esso stations in the city.

Already a significant number of people have gotten refunds from AAFES, but many others may not have realized they had been overcharged.

The plastic ration cards Americans use to buy fuel at Esso stations operate somewhat like debit cards, drawing from individual cash accounts. Customers wouldn’t have known they were overcharged without scrutinizing their receipts or checking their account balances and doing a little math.

Thomas Cimo, who works for AAFES central vending in Kaiserslautern, said he was pretty sure his wife had filled up their Jeep on Saturday, but he had to check.

"If my wife filled up the Jeep, then she put 80 liters in it," he said. That amount – a little more than 21 gallons – would have cost about $162 at the mistaken price, rather than the $42 it was supposed to.

"She probably wouldn’t even check," Cimo said, adding he doesn’t usually check to make sure he hasn’t been charged too much. "They will reimburse us somehow," he said of AAFES. "It happens," he shrugged.

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