Scam Risks You Face at the Gas Station

Fast and cunning tricks that gas station scammers use: Internet Scambusters #665

When you stop to refuel at a gas station, you could be at the mercy of any one of a number of scams.

Some of them are opportunist and happen in seconds and others are carefully planned and ingenious, as we explain in this week’s issue.

We also have a warning about a bogus refund email that aims to upload a virus onto your PC.

Now, here we go…

Scam Risks You Face at the Gas Station

Most of us are regular gas station visitors and we drive in and out without giving the experience a second thought.

But the fact is that each time you make a refueling pit stop, you’re potentially at risk from a gas station scam.

And, as with most scam themes, new tricks appear all the time.

You need to keep your wits about you, and the first step is actually knowing what to look out for. So this week we offer you a list of the 6 most common gas station scams.


We start with probably the most common trick — skimming devices attached to pump payment card readers.

They’re overlaid on the card slot of the machines and are often extremely difficult to spot.

They steal all the cardholder information including, with the aid of hidden cameras, their PIN numbers.

Action: Some gas stations apply stickers or seals over the edge of the card reader, so you can check to see if these have been tampered with.

Otherwise, examine the card slot to see if it matches the rest of the reader device.

Skimmers are often attached only loosely so a light pull on the mouth of the slot might dislodge it.

Cover the keyboard with your other hand when keying in your PIN number, so it can’t be read by a camera.

If you feel uneasy, either pay with cash or go inside the gas station office and pay in advance with your card.

Pump Switching

If you’re not vigilant, you could end up paying for refueling someone else’s car if you’re a victim of pump switching.

In this relatively new scam, crooks switch the hoses from one side of a pump to the other and then wait for a victim to arrive.

The victim puts the nozzle in his own car, pulls the trigger and watches the pump meter dials whizz around.

Nothing seems amiss. But here’s what really happened:

When the victim pulled the trigger, no fuel flowed from his hose because it’s attached to the other side of the pump where no fuel selection has been made. The machine is waiting for the selection.

In the meantime, the hose that really belongs to his pump is on the other side, delivering his gas into the scammer’s tank. The crook drives away before his con trick is discovered.

Action: A quick sight check is all you need to avoid this trick.

Look out for stretched hoses and make sure you can visually trace your hose all the way from your vehicle to your side of the pump.

Distress Scammers

Standing around while your gas tank refills makes you a sitting target for panhandlers who hang around the pumps and service areas with a sob story for anyone who will listen.

Usually, they say they need money for gas so they can visit a desperately sick relative, but, since most service stations also have a convenience store, they may say they need food.

The more sophisticated crooks might point to a car with kids in the back who, you’ll be told, are desperate to eat, and the victim may say they left their wallet at home.

Action: It can be tough to say “no” but that’s usually the best response. If you really feel you must help, offer to buy the gas or the food rather than handing over cash.

Purse Snatchers

While your attention is focused on the pump, or maybe you’re even inside paying for your gas, what’s happening to those valuables, like your purse, that you left on the passenger seat?

It only takes a few seconds for a thief to open a door or reach through a window and whisk them away.

Action: Don’t leave stuff on show inside your car. Close windows if the car is unoccupied and lock it if you have to go inside to pay.

Gas Swindlers

Dishonest gas station employees, and even some owners, get up to all kinds of tricks to overcharge or under-deliver on fuel.

These include pumps that have been “doctored” to deliver short-measure and phony readings — sometimes even adding up the cents when the nozzle hasn’t even been inserted in the tank.

In other cases, where gas stations offer a discount for cash, pump attendants may hit the “credit” button so cash-paying victims unknowingly end up paying the credit card rate.

Investigators who monitored this type of dual price pump at a gas station in Long Island saw this scam repeatedly pulled off without a single motorist spotting the trick.

Travelers in Mexico have also reported teams of windshield washers who gather around a vehicle so the owner can’t see the pump reading when it stops short of what they paid for (in Mexico, motorists usually pay a fixed sum in advance before they begin pumping).

Action: Keep a close eye on the pump throughout the refueling and request a receipt (which you should carefully check).

If the fuel and payment meter seems to be operating when the nozzle is not, report it to the gas station clerk and, if necessary, to your state’s department for weights and measures.

In some cases — and you’ll see examples of this on YouTube — motorists have actually made phone videos of meters racking up charges when the car is not refueling — valuable evidence if you make a complaint.
Short Changers

This scam is more common outside the U.S., especially where attendants pump the gas for you.

They’re quick-switch artists who will claim you gave them a lower denomination bill than you really did — and they’ll show you it to prove their claim, having pocketed your real money.

Action: Before paying in cash, hold the bill(s) up and state its value aloud before handing it over.

Alert of the Week

An email claiming that a refund you’re supposedly entitled to has somehow been blocked or failed delivers a nasty surprise if you click on the attachment that supposedly gives details of the problem.

The message is headed something like “Refund Failed” followed by an “ACH transfer” number. ACH is the organization that oversees transfers of funds between banks.

The message goes on to request recipients to “review the document provided here to have more details about this transfer.”

The scam may be particularly targeted at small businesses but in reality anyone could get it.

The attachment contains the “W97M” trojan, which downloads spying malware onto your PC — so don’t click it, ditch it!

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.