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.