Mexico: Gas Station Scams to Watch Out For

Tourists that we meet often have a story about how they were scammed, shortchanged or cheated while getting gas in Mexico.

Their unfamiliarity with how things work here – coupled with the fact that their cars have rental tags on them – make them a target for unscrupulous gas station attendants looking to make a quick buck at their expense.

In today’s post, I’m going to tell you about some of the more common scams and how to avoid them.

1. Money Swap

This is the most common one. In fact, a few of my friends have fallen victim to this one.

How it works

The money swap occurs when you hand the attendant your money and they swap a bill — usually a $50 for a $500 — and then tell you that you didn’t give them enough money.

The scam works best when there is some form of distraction used. Be wary of attendants who are excessively chatty or if there is a second attendant who comes over to talk to you while the first one is working. The goal is to make you unsure if you gave them the correct amount or not.

Avoiding it

Pay attention! Stop chatting with the passengers in the car and get out so you can observe what the attendant is doing.

It’s also a good idea to count out the bills one at a time as you place them in the attendant’s hand.

If they try to swap a bill and you’re absolutely sure they’re trying to scam you, call them on it. Tell them to return your other bill or you’ll call the police. You may even want to take out your cellphone and start recording the encounter.

This is usually all it takes to rectify the problem. The attendant usually responds with a sheepish grin and then gives you the correct change owed.

2. Shortchanged

This is common with tourists because they’re not familiar with the currency here.

How it works

This one is pretty self explanatory. The attendant gives you insufficient change for the amount of money that you provided.

Avoiding it

Pay attention!

If you speak some Spanish (at least you know your numbers), I useful tip is to tell them exactly how much you want back when you give them the money. It throws them off and they usually just hand you the amount you asked for.

3. Not Resetting the Pump

How it works

The attendant does not reset the pump to zero before putting fuel in your vehicle.

Avoiding it

Pay attention and make sure that the pump is at zero. The attendant will often say “ceros” (zeros) before pumping to confirm this was done.

4. Credit Card Fraud

How it works

Your card is skimmed and later cloned. Even if your card has a security chip, that doesn’t stop people from making online purchases.

Avoiding it

The easiest way is to avoid using a credit card at a gas station. I always stick to cash.

If you do insist on using a card, watch the attendant carefully to ensure that he or she is not capturing the information with a secondary device.

5. Incorrect Liters

How it works

The software has been altered and the pump is dispensing fewer liters than it says on the display.

Avoiding it

Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to avoid this one.

In fact, you probably won’t even know you’ve been scammed unless the discrepancy is huge. For example, you pump $500 pesos into your Chevy March and it barely fills up half.

If you feel that you’ve been a victim of this, ask for a receipt and report the incident to the government entity tasked with investigations consumer violations, PROFECO. There’s not much more you can do unfortunately.

Let’s Wrap This Up

I get gas a couple of times a week and I’ve never been the victim of a fraud — at least that I’m aware of.

The secret to my successful streak is that I diligently follow my own advice every time.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. In 2016, they started a blog called Two Expats Mexico ( sharing their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border. The blog has been viewed over two million times and the articles have been republished in numerous periodicals across Mexico.

18 Comments on "Mexico: Gas Station Scams to Watch Out For"

  1. In more than 10 years of driving in Mexico, I have never been a victim of any of this. At least as far as I know!

  2. I have been living in mahahual for three years and recently got scammed out of 200 pesos the same way you explained. I have since solved the problem by telling them to only put in 250 pesos for example. This also works.

  3. Thanks for blogging this. God knows I’ve been scammed by Pemex. It helps to carry a calculator and get out of the car to make sure they reset the pump.

  4. Robert Reese | January 18, 2017 at 11:03 am |

    Stay away from the LaGas station on the north end of Tulum. They have pulled the 50 for 500 and not resetting the pump on me. Beware or don’t use that station.

  5. I’ve lived in Mexico for nearly 8 years and the only times we were hit with the money swap situation were on the Costa Maya. One of the places I believe is the station Robert R. just referred to above.

    It’s said that the incorrect liter situation happens a lot, but as Paul says, it’s hard to avoid or prove.

  6. Buenos Dias, hola, hola, or Good morning, I will even try “Guten Tag” Paul, simply because your name is typically of German decent, perhaps your great grandfather came from Germany. Southern Germany, possibly Austria.
    Living at 80, coming from Toronto, Canada for the last 3 years in Centro, Merida, Yucatan, I just felt to tell you that I tremendously enjoy your “Blog”, every time I get it on my e-mail.
    It is great and I must admit, having been here in this beautiful, friendly, nice, livable Country for some time. Of course, I have had similar experiences every “Gringo” will have to find out, especially with a limited vocabulary in Spanish, it is more difficult with age to learn a new “Slang”.
    But I just have to let you know you are doing GREAT and keep it up it does even help some one like me, who has been here for a while.
    Muchos gracias, saludos Werner O. Schmidt.

  7. I was pumped 64 liters this week and my tank only holds 58. And it wasn’t empty to begin with.

  8. Actually can you send me the comments about restaurants in Mexico not being able to add a mandatory tip to the bill. Thanks

  9. Pierre Morin | January 18, 2017 at 1:52 pm |

    We were told by a Mexican friend that you can tell which stations short the liters by changing the software by observing if they have a lot of customers or not. If a station has no customers and the other one has a line up that is a good indicator. Mexicans know which stations are rip offs and tend to stay away from them. Also you can gas up at the stations that the collectivos use. They usually know also.

  10. James McConnell | January 18, 2017 at 2:16 pm |

    I also got ripped off at La Gas north of Tulum last month. The 50 for 500 scam. People beware.

  11. This is an excellent post! Thank you so much. Expats or Visitors should forward this one on social media to let everyone know those scams and ripoffs all over Mexico, and not just at gas stations. #4 Shortchange in Mexico is very common, not only at gas stations, but also OXXO (very common), grocery stores, department stores, street vendors, etc. #5 Incorrect Liters is very common. An Mexican brought his own 20-liter gas tank to Penmex to have it filled up, only found 15 liters, not 20. Penemax staff insisted asking him to pay for the price of 20 liters. He took out his cellphone and stated to call Profeco. Another Penmex staff came out, asking him whom he was calling. He said Profeco. They gave him another 5-liter right away!!! It’s a well known fraud. People – bring your 20-liter gas tank to a gas station next time and find out by yourself if you get 20 or 15. You do have the proof!!! Paul, you should write another post about all kinds of scams and ripoffs, not just at gas stations in Mexico and also let your readers to contribute their personal experience and how they handle as well. Keep up the great work. Thanks again Paul! Muchas Gracias!!

  12. Last may down in Bacalar I handed the attendant a 500 peso bill he ran upstairs came back down and handed me a damaged 500 bill saying I needed to give him another bill. I held my ground and said I would call the police, language was a big issue but in the end they relented and gave me my change (it helped that my wife was out of her mind and was acting like a crazy person)

  13. OK I fell for the money swap and the reset of the pump but have learn from this and never again! I also never pay by credit only cash and I watch very closely and never again fall for the distraction method. I also never go back to a station that scammed me once :). I was relatively new when I got scammed and that’s what they rely on they don’t even realize what they are doing to tourism they only care about one thing and that is them =selves for one day.

  14. To all the posters that think they have never been scanned, I say ignorance is bliss. At least 90% of the stations pour short liters. How much you get ripped off is up to you. Always go to the station that is the busiest with locals. You can check the PROFECO website as well to ensure the station has submitted and passed verification recently. The majority by far have not.

  15. | January 19, 2017 at 10:33 am |

    I’ve been tricked three or four times over the past 6+ years. Every time it has been because I didn’t keep focus on the task at hand. Its all about opportunity. If I don’t do my part to provide the attendant an opportunity for a quick switch or not resetting the pump it didn’t happen. Be diligent and pay attention. I find that announcing the value of the bill I pass over stops their plan to do a switcharoo.
    Stay alert.

  16. Regarding the distraction one, be careful of cute little boys coming up to your car to sell you snacks. This happened to us last year. He came up to the passenger side window and stood right in my face while the attendant supposedly was pumping gas. We bought something from the little boy, paid the attendant, and drove off with the same amount of gas as we had when we pulled in.

  17. The first gas station you can hit going south of the airport on the right (7-11 behind it) tried the ol 50 peso for 500 peso switcheroo. Notice how almost no gas stations have anything larger than a 2.5 stars rating from Cancun traveling down towards Tulum. I did find one though. The first one on your right after passing Akumai (southbound) on the way to Tulum. Even tipped him because I was taken aback by the honesty. And….get this…rated 4 stars. The only gas station I found rated that high. It’s called “Hoyo Tires” on Google maps of the area. Enjoy scam free.

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