Mexico: A Failed Attempt to Scam Me at a Gas Station Reveals a New Technique

Photo Source: iStockphoto

No matter where you are in Mexico, the advice is the same when visiting a gas station — watch the attendants carefully. The reason is that scams and frauds at gas stations are very common, and if you’re not paying attention, you might end up paying way too much for that gas.

Last year, I wrote an article about some of the common gas station scams to watch out for and how to avoid them. Well, last night I encountered a scam that I had never seen before so I thought I would share the information with our readers.

“Hey, That’s New!”

After dinner last night, I stopped at a gas station that I rarely visit and got out. There were two attendants next to the pump and I told them to fill it up. One attendant started pumping the gas — after showing me that the pump was on zero — while the other one started washing the windshield.

While I was making small talk with the two attendants, a third attendant — that’s the one we’ll refer to as the scammer — walked over from the other side of the parking lot and stood in front of the pump. His presence seemed odd there and I thought he might be trying to block my view.

From experience, I know that most scams involve some sort of distraction and although I was joking with them all, I was still carefully watching the pump. As soon as it clicked off, I saw that the display read $544 pesos. 

I walked around the back of my car to pay as the scammer was putting the nozzle back into the pump and doing something with the keypad. When I reached him, I saw that the display now read $950 pesos.

He was smiling at me — probably because he thought he was about to get a $400 peso tip — and I told him in Spanish, “I’m going to make you famous for trying to scam me.”

His smile disappeared and he quickly hit some buttons on the pump. The display showed $544 pesos again.

How the Scam Works

The gas station attendant changes the display price on the pump. There are two ways to do this:

1) The attendant scrolls back through previous sales made on the pump.

2) The attendant starts a new transaction and types in a peso amount as if the customer requested that amount of gas. The attendant stops short of pushing enter, so there is no record of it, but the new amount shows on the display. Once the customer leaves, the attendant can back out of that screen.

TIP: Watch to see if the attendant pushes any buttons on the pump after it stops

When I confronted the scammer, he denied trying to cheat me but didn’t have an explanation for the appearance of $950 pesos on the pump.

When I told him in Spanish that I knew how he did it and then explained the steps, he looked surprised and admitted it. He said he was truly sorry.

Let’s Wrap This Up

I chose not to include the name and address of the gas station in this article because I don’t think it would be fair to other employees who work there to do so. This blog has a substantial following and including the name would undoubtedly have a serious, and possibly devastating, impact on their business.

Instead, I went back to the business today and met with the general manager. We discussed the incident at length and he assured me that he would take appropriate action against the employee.

I also plan to file a complaint with PROFECO, the government agency tasked with enforcing Mexico’s consumer protection law.

UPDATED: 7/24/19

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About the Author

Qroo 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. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

82 Comments on "Mexico: A Failed Attempt to Scam Me at a Gas Station Reveals a New Technique"

  1. rosalie Joyce caldwell | July 23, 2019 at 3:29 pm |

    Thank you. Even in the states that might catch on

    • In New Jersey, all of the stations are full-service. I wonder if that happens there.

    • That’s definitely a new one, or, an old one that they’ve been slick enough to do for a long time. As for not telling who they were… Come on. Don’t protect the criminal.

      As I told you long ago, the long awaited automobile legalization is here… year 2019, since April, is the “Year of the Chocolate.” Cars from year 2000 to 2013 are allowed into Mexico, to become Mexican vehicles, for a fraction of the cost. The link to the article is here:

      https://www.mexnoticias.mx/matamoros/a-partir-del-1-abril-los-autos-chocolates-pasan-a-ser-vehiculos-nacionalizados/

      It is real. I’m bringing in two vehicles, one at a time.

      • I looked into this Philip and those news articles were not accurate. In fact, there have been several since then clarifying the fact that the “decree” was merely one to continue using the same guidelines from the year before. They do this every year.

        Since AMLO promised last year to do something about the chocolate cars, many people mistook this decree to be that. But, the same rules for import that existed last year, exist now. I checked with a licensed importer who confirmed that.

        I’m not sure how good your Spanish is, but here’s the meat of it taken directly from the Diario Oficial de la Federación:

        DECRETO
        Artículo Único.- Se reforma el Transitorio Primero del Decreto por el que se regula la importación definitiva de vehículos usados, publicado en el Diario Oficial de la Federación el 1 de julio de 2011 y modificado mediante diversos publicados en el mismo órgano de difusión oficial el 31 de enero de 2013, 30 de enero de 2014, 31 de diciembre de 2014, 31 de diciembre de 2015, 26 de diciembre de 2016 y 28 de diciembre de 2017, para quedar como sigue:

        “PRIMERO.- El presente Decreto estará vigente hasta el 31 de diciembre de 2019.”

        Here’s a link to the so-called “new decree” that inspired those news stories: https://dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5555995&fecha=29/03/2019

        On a related note, AMLO is still talking about doing something about all the chocolate cars but so far it’s just talk.

  2. Lori M Wegener | July 23, 2019 at 3:33 pm |

    Those little xhits!! Always, looking at new ways to scam extra Pesos.
    Thanks for sharing and taking the next few steps by talking the GM of that station and following up with reporting to Profeco.

    • We’ll see if that makes a difference. I’ll be sure to go back there and check. 🙂

  3. Mark Raymond | July 23, 2019 at 3:33 pm |

    Good work, Paul. Keep it up. We are all fortunate to have you around (including los mexicanos!)

  4. Mess with THE BULL and you get the horns! We need to order a red cape for you, hermano. Nice job.

  5. Roger Mailhot | July 23, 2019 at 3:36 pm |

    I must say that one is good! Great job Paul!

  6. I have been travelling throughout Mexico for more than ten years with an RV and every time I stop to gas up I tell the attendant the amount in pesos that I want, i.e. one thousand pesos.This way there is no bad surprise at the end.
    Thanks for sharing this new scam.

  7. Steve in Ajijic | July 23, 2019 at 3:49 pm |

    Thanks for sharing Paul, great info. Clearly this is an easy scam for them to pull off when dealing with visitors in rental cars – they often have no idea how much it should cost to fill up.

  8. Andrea Farinacci | July 23, 2019 at 3:51 pm |

    Thanks for that info- well aware of scams and had a “funny experience “ in Cozumel. My BF and I tried to watch closely while at the gas pump but they moved SO fast we still got scammed!!! All we could do was laugh…

    • They are very good at what they do…lol. I often tell people if they’re a fan of close-up magic, visit a few gas stations in Mexico and you’re likely to see cool tricks like $500 peso bills turning into $20’s. 🙂

  9. Good for you! The other two must have been in on it, if they weren’t wondering why he joined them!

  10. Baja Prince | July 23, 2019 at 3:56 pm |

    Thank you for making your readers aware of this and for pointing out that distraction is a common feature to be extra aware of. I think I’m pretty savvy at avoiding getting scammed but I think I could have gotten tricked by this scam so thank you very much for sharing!

  11. emilys72016 | July 23, 2019 at 3:57 pm |

    Good job, Paul. One way to avoid this particular scam is to request a set amount of gas from the start, like $500 MXP, rather than asking them to fill it up, right?

  12. GM could also be in on the scam? Asking around you should be able to find the owner, though possibly the Profeco complaint will maybe get to his desk.

    • That crossed my mind and that why I wanted to make the Profeco complaint so there would be some type of follow-up. The GM seemed like a genuine guy who was severely overworked.

  13. Barry French | July 23, 2019 at 4:02 pm |

    Surprised you said fill it up. Simple fix. Never say fill it up !!!!. Ever. Just say 200 pesos or 500 or whatever the amount, watch the meter and keep the money until you verify. if someone else comes over to wash your windows say no. Your car must have window washer in it. If there is more than 1 person around your car get out of the car. That will stop them in their tracks.. Haven’t been scammed once.

    • I always say fill it up and this is the first time that anyone has ever tried to scam me because I normally exit the vehicle, stand next to the pump and carefully watch them. This was the first time I deviated from my routine and “poof” — just like that, I blog article was born…lol.

  14. Gracias Paul! I thought the Pemex guys had tried everything on me over the years, and they have, but that is a new one. btw; love all of your info. thanks for doing this. We will meet you and Linda soon. Sam y Wendy

  15. Haril Walpole | July 23, 2019 at 4:04 pm |

    Cop observation techniques never go away…. Good catch and thanks for sharing.

  16. OMG!!! That exact same thing happened to me in Cabo in March. I had my niece with me (her first time, she’s 16) and we pull up to fill the rental car tank. I tell her about the usual gas pump scams and that its important to be observant. I look at the register and watch it. It was around 240 pesos (I was topping it off to return). Next time I look at it, its almost 500 pesos. Two different people came to tell me the inflated price, and I stubbornly said “No, it’s 240 pesos.” The next time someone said something, I said “Policia” and they gave me the correct amount. It was a good lesson for her and for me. Always be observant…wherever you are.

  17. Was this in Playa? Every trip down I have had different attempts to be scammed at the pump, at least 2-3 times a trip. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Annette Stevens | July 23, 2019 at 4:09 pm |

    Thanks, Paul! We will watch out for that one!

  19. Bonnie Ashley | July 23, 2019 at 4:18 pm |

    Thank you for thinking of the other employees, hopefully the business owner will take action with the “bad apple”

  20. Paul, I hope you’ll share the story of working with PROFECO on this issue!

  21. Steve Granger | July 23, 2019 at 4:27 pm |

    Daaaaaang! This is very useful info, thanks for sharing.

    I think this also underscores how important it is to be able to communicate in Spanish while you are there. It’s actually one of my biggest concerns about moving…without the ability to communicate in Spanish, I would not have been able to effectively respond to scams like this. That said, it seems like you need to be there to be able to develop that kind of fluency. Kind of a Catch 22 I think….for now will just continue to drill vocabulary (and use your great videos!) in preparation for a move.

    Once again…thanks for sharing!

  22. Dennis Neuman | July 23, 2019 at 4:31 pm |

    Usually I have a decent estimate of how many liters I will need, and request a specific peso amount like Emilys72016 suggests. When I do ask for a fillup I leave the ignition switch ‘on’ and watch the gas guage and the liters on the pump. I ask them to just fill until the pump clicks off. So far, I haven’t been scammed. But this is a great warning Paul. Thank you.

  23. Nice essay.
    Following up with the manager was good form as well.

  24. I have not seen this trick yet, but every other trick in the books. They still try the money swap one quite often, but I am now very careful about it and make sure I fan the money out and count it with the attendant, and don’t turn my back ever.

  25. Leo Alvarez | July 23, 2019 at 5:04 pm |

    Paul thanks for sharing this. One more trick to keep a look out for. I always give the attendants a set amount of gas I’m buying—usually 800 or 1000 pesos. In addition to protecting against this scam, it provides some measure of protection against the other typical switcheroo scam!
    Keep up the good work!

  26. Donald Murray | July 23, 2019 at 5:11 pm |

    Nice work, Paul!

  27. Thank you!

  28. Ah! This similar scenario happened to us several years ago. We caught them doing it, but they said they were going to call the police if we didn’t pay. We didn’t want to waste our time, or deal with the Mexican Police, so we overpaid and went on to enjoy our vacation.

  29. Great job busting that jerk! Thanks for sharing-yet another scam to watch out for while getting gas. You’re a wealth of info-I sincerely appreciate you both!

  30. Thanks. Makes me thankful for being able to pump my own gas here in the states.

  31. Paul,

    One other thing that’s curious and that you didn’t mention – when they start to enter the new transaction, that probably erased the number of liters dispensed in the previous transaction, no? Even if one weren’t paying close attention, that should be a dead giveaway – you should see both the total price and the number of liters dispensed.

    • Becca Tunstall | July 23, 2019 at 5:47 pm |

      Exactly! They can retype in the amount at the top but the number of litres would be zero.

  32. Becca Tunstall | July 23, 2019 at 5:46 pm |

    They’ve been pulling that trick for years unfortunately; and in many different gas stations.

    If you ever have any doubt as to if they have pumped the correct amount, just ask for a ticket/receipt before you hand over the money. They can manipulate the numbers on the pump but not the printed tickets. The ticket will say the number of the pump, the exact time and how many litres were pumped as well as the total cost.

  33. As if the manager weren’t in on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if even the Profeco were receiving part of the stolen monies.

  34. Anne Durst | July 23, 2019 at 6:03 pm |

    This happened to 4 of us as we were traveling back from Bacalar in March. All 4 of us were watching the pump and we saw it jump $500pesos. The driver told him how awful it was to try to scam us when we were so generous to the Mexican people. He pushed a button on the pump and it jumped back to the original amount.

  35. Hey, in response to emilys72016 above – usually that works, but I, too, got scammed (successful, did not realize it until after I had pulled away) like Paul describes in this writing, except that I had asked and paid for $1,000 mx of gas. Apparently while one guy distracted me, another off’d the pump (at about $750 mx best guess) and reset at $1,000. Once again, NEVER trust a gas station attendant.

  36. This would be a useful Trip Advisor post also. I got scammed out of $500 pesos because my spanish is nil and I was tired. Thank you for sharing this “new” scam. I’ll be on the double lookout next time we come to Tulum/Akumal.

  37. Yes when there are too many “chefs in the kitchen” i.e. too many attendants know to be on a look out. My guess is this was the one in between Puerto Aventuras and Akumal on the southbound side of 307. I don’t ever go there because EVERYTIME there’s been an attempted scam. This is second level though. Thanks for the warning. I’d love to know a good phrase in Spanish besides the universal yelling and confronting them with my phone and dash cam…LOL. They don’t that we live her full time or speak Spanish. Paul, I’ve attempted to take pictures of their ID badges and they turn their badges facedown and walk away….GRR. La Gas in Puerto Aventuras Northboad is the only place I go.

  38. williaro99 | July 23, 2019 at 8:17 pm |

    Thnx much Paul for the tip. A few months back at a gas station near TAO, they tried the distraction bill switch scam on me & saying I’d given a 50 instead of 500 – but I was confidently adamant and fellow got nervous & said “sorry, my mistake:. Also last week in Gainesville, FL, I had to get police out on a remote skimmer scheme after getting gas – v. sophisticated these days and they had my debit card and pin and must have marketed out immediately as charges at a restaurant in New York and some shopping in Carolinas happened overnight – so canceled card and fortunately my credit card company ate the charge – but I called out the law to the pump & gas station to protect the public –

    • Back in Florida, the only scam we really have to worry about at the pumps is skimming. Ah, those were the good old days…lol.

  39. best way to avoid the gas scam is to buy a specific amount of gas, i.e. 500 pesos worth or something like that (after you’ve seen them zero out the pump). Don’t have them fill the tank.

  40. Claudia Hurtado Valenzuela | July 23, 2019 at 8:53 pm |

    Thank you so much for this information, you are such caring and good people, thinking about the negative impact on other employees and taking the time to discuss this with the GM, We are so lucky to have you live here Muchas gracias° =)

    • Thank you. Hopefully, this will resolve the problem at this particular station. I plan to have some friends get gas there in the near future to check. 🙂

  41. So funny, so we arrived here today, rented our car in Cancun, drove down to Tulum. Stopped a bit south of Akumal to get gas. I got out, saw the guy reset to zero, a young did the windows. My daughter, wanted to go inside for some snacks, so I went with her, while my wife stayed in the car with our other daughter. Everything seemed fine bc I saw it reset to 0.00. Just asked my wife and she said it was $752 Pesos. About $40US, but we have a VW Gol holds that much gas? I’ll have to check, but possibly a scam as well

  42. Raul Carerra | July 23, 2019 at 9:36 pm |

    We all should buy teslas with long extension chords.

  43. Kristia Snider | July 23, 2019 at 10:26 pm |

    Wow….I’m afraid I’d get scammed anyway. Im afraid to rent a car in Mexico. Ill stick to walking, taxis and private transport, but thank you for bringing this to light. I know a lot of people rent vehicles so good to know. Glad you confronted him and following up!

  44. Thank you for posting this. As a woman who drives and does not speak the language, this is very scary for me. I tend not to fill up my tank, but to ask for the gas by specific number of pesos. I wish this didn’t happen, but it does. I guess we just have to be on ultra-alert.

  45. REMA STRAUSS | July 24, 2019 at 12:20 am |

    i have looked at Mexico as a place to retire but not yet speaking language and even if I do they still scam /steal from you and there is no law so prob this is only a place I will visit to get temporarily ripped off..sucks..

    • Gas stations can present a challenge but you can follow some steps to make it less likely that they will even try. I usually follow them to the letter, but this time I allowed myself to get distracted and walked away from the pump. And, this is the first time anyone has tried to scam me at a gas station in four years.

  46. That’s one of the reasons I dont just fill up. I always ask for a set amount usually 500 pesos will fill my tank almost to full from 3/4 empty..that’s actually a habit and something my parents always told me. Never let the tank get below 3/4 empty. Lol. And I watch very carefully the tank filling and the pump and the employee.

  47. Yes I’ve seen this reported on both the Playa TA forum and locals Facebook forum and watch for it. I’m sure it isn’t a new scam, perhaps just becoming more widely recognized…
    I’ve been scammed once and have had at least 6 tries since, whether the bill swap or the distraction move..these are pros! When I meet an honest attendant it is a treat.

    I want to make as few trips to a station as necessary to avoid the lines and the potential for a scam, and I don’t speak fluent Spanish which makes it difficult to challenge persistent attendants who work together so I always fill up.

  48. Thanks, Paul! Posted on our FB page and will be diligent, as always, when at the pumps!

  49. Brian Nacy | July 24, 2019 at 8:54 am |

    Typically I ask for amounts that I will include a tip like 495 and tell them to keep a the 5 peso tip. Then I pay with a 500. Using one or 2 bills seems to help keep the money scam down.

  50. hello paul….i have been on the receiving end of scam attempts from different sources over the years. i had a scam attempt pulled at a gas station a couple months back. it was the attendant claiming i did not give him a $500 peso bill, when i know i did. my defense to rectify the situation always works. most don’t think i speak spanish beyond a few words until i open my mouth and speak it. what i do, is pick up my cell phone and say “ok, let’s get my attorney over here along with the policia, and i’m sure we can work this out”, and then begin dialing. never fails.

  51. Thanks so much Paul! Can you tell me the exact phrase you used in Spanish? “I’m going to make you famous for trying to scam me.” I would like to memorize it and have it in the car for safety purposes! Great post, as always. Muchas gracias!

  52. Great article and tips Paul! Thanks!

  53. Two words – lleno, ticket – por favor.

  54. seems many of us have been scammed … I was in a rental car at a station and one guy kept talking to me and trying to distract me while the other pumped … the end price was higher then I expected and I did not have enough money,and was late to return the car (when I questioned the price the attendant said it was a problem with the car) so I gave them what I thought it should cost and told the car rental agency what happened. They said the tank of that car did not hold that much gas. I told them the gas attendants said the car was broken. This pissed off the car rental guy and he drove back to the gas station with me and had a talk with the manager and basically said if you rip off our customers again they would loose their business. So now I always get out of the car and watch the attendant like a hawk … I cant believe they get away with this!

  55. Kelly Roscoe | July 24, 2019 at 3:26 pm |

    You are AWESOME!

  56. Nice work! I lived in CDMX for 2.5 years… my Girlfriend there was born and raised and she always went to the one gas station by her house she could trust because she said most of the gas stations will try to scam you in one way or another. Usually she goes in and asks for a specific amount…and watches to make sure the pump is on the whole time.

  57. William Harnecker | July 28, 2019 at 3:35 pm |

    Here at management of Playa Norte RV Park are happy with this new cheating discovery at the gas pump. I am sending a copy of this article to some of my customers. I have traveled for several years back and forth from the US and this scam is a very good one to be made accessible to the public.
    Thanks Paul.
    William H.
    Playa Norte RV Park

  58. I had this very same scam attempted a few years ago, with three guys. It’s been a while, but I believe the display was missing the number of litres pumped. That’s how I got him to confess to the scam. \

  59. I hope I stay as aware as you were once we move to Mexico. It sounds like one needs to pay attention during the entire process. Thanks for sharing.

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