Sneaky Gas Station Scams You Need to Watch Out for

The escalating price of gas isn’t the worst way you can lose money at the pump.

gas station
Updated May 28, 2024
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When you pull into a gas station, your fill-up is likely to be drama-free. However, gas stations can be targets for scams and swindles because so many people and cars pass through them for brief transactions every day.

To help you keep more money in your wallet, be sure to avoid being taken for a ride by these classic and new scams

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The skimmer scam

pathdoc/Adobe woman's hand swiping credit card

A skimmer is a device attached to or above the credit card reader on a gas pump. It reads the magnetic stripe on a debit or credit card while the card is inserted into the card reader. 

The skimmer stores the card information. Installers of skimmers can remove the devices later and then use the card number and information to make online purchases with the card.

Because the pump card reader performs the actual transaction and the pump dispenses gas correctly, the customer usually has no idea that anything is amiss until hours or days later, when the information stolen by the skimmer is used for other purchases.

A skimmer can’t read a chip card, but most chip cards also have a magnetic stripe. So if you still use the strip reader at the pump, you can still fall prey to a scam.

How much danger are you in with a skimmer?

fizkes/Adobe man worried about finance safety data

Criminals who install skimmers can use your card information to make purchases and accumulate debt. If they get access to debit cards, they attempt to drain your bank accounts.

When you pull up to a pump, make sure the card reader on your pump looks like the readers on the other pumps at the station. You might also give the card reader a wiggle and tug — skimming devices are often loose and can be moved.

If there’s an option to use a chip card reader that doesn’t contact the magnetic stripe on the chip card, use that. But the best way to avoid a skimmer is to go inside the gas station and pay with a chip card.

The doctored pump scam

pixelrain/Adobe young lady upset and angry with high fuel cost at petrol pump looks at her credit card

This is another classic scam occasionally used by nefarious gas station owners. 

The pump is doctored to give false readings, often counting slower, so you actually pay more. In some cases, charges might begin before you’ve even started pumping gas.

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The wrong price scam

phpetrunina14/Adobe man standing with empty wallet

Some gas stations charge more when you pay with a credit card. However, customers who come in to pay with cash might be charged the credit card rate instead of the cash discount rate.

The amount stolen from each individual customer is minimal. However, if the employees do this regularly, it can add up to a considerable amount of money stolen from many victims.

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The reversed hoses scam

Milan/Adobe  Fuel pumps station

In this scam, the criminal parks on one side of the pump and reverses the hoses, so the hose from one pump is in the holster of the other pump, and vice versa. The customer pulls up on the other side of the pump, puts their card in, and chooses the octane of gas to dispense.

The criminal then puts the hose belonging to the customer’s pump into their own car (or a receptacle) and pumps gas into it.

The customer puts the hose from the other pump into their car to fill up, and since the meter is flipping, they may not notice the gas isn’t flowing. By then, the criminal has driven away with a tank of gas paid for by the customer.

The sympathy scam

Маргарита Кочнева/Adobe Traveling man pumps gas into his car on a gas station

A stranger will approach a customer pumping gas and tell a sad story before asking the customer for money or some other kind of help.

Because the customer has the hose in their car’s gas tank, they can’t leave or get away from the stranger. The customer may give in to get the stranger to leave or to prevent an altercation.

Bottom line

Have a nice day/Adobe man's hand is refuelling gas

The number of gas-station rip-offs seems to be expanding as anti-theft and anti-scam technology evolves. 

Having to look out for so many scams just adds insult to injury as fuel prices continue to rise — and many people are just trying to get ahead financially.

Luckily, this checklist provides ways to ensure you don't get swindled at the pump.

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Author Details

Elizabeth Rollins

Elizabeth Rollins has degrees in literature and business, and she's combined these loves into a career in writing about personal finance. Her special areas of interest are debt, value, budgeting, education, and retirement.