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.
Updated April 3, 2023
gas station

We receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

When you pull into a gas station, odds are that your fill-up will be drama-free. However, gas stations can be targets for scams and swindles since so many people and cars pass through them for brief transactions every day.

In addition to following some strategies to reduce the pain at the pump, be sure to look out for these classic and new scams and avoid being taken for a ride.

The skimmer scam

pathdoc/Adobe woman's hand swiping credit card

A skimmer is a device attached on or above the credit card reader on a gas pump that 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 number 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 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 make purchases and run up debts using your card info. 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 a wiggle and tug to the card reader — skimming devices are often loose and can be moved.

If there’s an option to use a chip card reader that doesn’t have any contact with 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 employees or owners of a gas station. The pump is doctored to give false readings. In some cases, charges might begin before you’ve even started pumping gas.

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 very small. However, if the employees do this regularly, it can add up to a considerable amount of money stolen from many victims.

Pro tip: Use one of the best credit cards for gas to get point and cash back rewards the next time you fill up.

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 level of gas to dispense.

The criminal then puts the hose belonging to the customer’s pump into the criminal’s 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 anything wrong. By the time the customer figures out that there’s no gas flowing, 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 the gas tank of their car, 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 be aware constantly and look out for so many ways of stealing your money just adds insult to injury as fuel prices continue to rise.

You’re already being robbed at the gas station by the highest gas prices in decades. You can find more ways to fight the pain at the pump with this five-step checklist.  

Inbox Dollars Benefits

  • Get a $5 bonus when you register with your email
  • You could earn money by taking surveys or making online searches
  • Over $80 million paid to members so far - how much can you earn?

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.

Want to learn how to make an extra $200?

Get proven ways to earn extra cash from your phone, computer, & more with Extra.

You will receive emails from Unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy

  • Vetted side hustles
  • Exclusive offers to save money daily
  • Expert tips to help manage and escape debt