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How to Avoid Scams at the Gas Station

Pemex Gas station in Mexico Playa Del Carmen Pemex gas station.

Pemex is the gas station here. It is the Mexican state-owned petroleum company, created in 1938 by nationalized petroleum. The good thing is, all gas stations are Pemex and have the same price, so no having to shop around for the best deal. However there are some crafty scams at Pemex gas stations in Mexico. Here are some of the most common ones. Hopefully this will prepare you so you can avoid the scams.

Pemex Gas Stations in Mexico

Here are a few basic things that make Pemex gas stations different.

  • Prices are not even listed on signs, only at the pump.
  • There are attendants that pump the gas for you.
  • There are not always gas stations on long stretches of highway. It is always good to fill up when you see a Pemex gas station. We try to make a note in some article where there are no gas stations.
  • Some attendants will wash your windshield and if asked, will check you fluid levels.
  • A small tip is appreciated for the attendants service.

The bad thing is there are some scams that pump workers pull on foreigners and unsuspecting locals. Scams are more common then most would hope for and something that frustrates drivers because of having to think about it every time they fill up.

We have complied the top scams and how you can avoid them to be used as helpful advice to keep from getting ripped off at the pump.

First scam at Pemex gas station in Mexico

The old money switch-a-roo. You go to pay with a 500 peso note and the attendant switches it fast in his hand and shows you a 50 peso note or even a 20. This happens so fast that at first you might think that you actually gave a 50 and you need to pay more. Both notes have the numbers five and zero and are similar color.

It is a big profit scam and that is why it is so popular. Even if you give a green 200 bill note some unscrupulous attendants will switch it in their hand for a blue 20 note. Crazy isn’t it?  How do you avoid this? You can say how much you are giving the attendant. If you cannot say it in Spanish, hold it up and look at the attendant and keep your eyes on your money and change. Don’t leave without the correct change. Try to have exact change to pay for your gas.

Some people prefer to pay with a credit card, but there are issues there that can arise.

Second scam at the gas station in Mexico

Not zeroing the pump. If you ask for 200 pesos and the pump is not zeroed from the last transaction of lets say 100 pesos, they will add 100 pesos and the pump will read 200 peso charge but you actually only got 100 pesos of gas. How do you avoid this scam? When you pull up, notice the pump and watch them zero it.

Sometimes they even point to it and show you it is zeroed only to pull another scam, so still look out.

Third scam at the gas station in Mexico

Pumping from the other side of the pump. You will not see the reading of your service and you will not get to check if it truly started at zero. How to avoid this scam, when you pull up, just be observant and if they reach for the other side, get out to check the pump numbers.

Fourth scam at the gas station in Mexico

You pull up and are in the car with friends or family, you ask for gas and then pay and go. Without checking the pump to actually see if they added the amount you asked for. If you asked for 400 pesos worth and then they added 300 pesos and you drive off, you just got scammed for 100 pesos. If you catch them doing this, they may pretend that they not understand you and then add the other 100 pesos even if your Spanish is good.

How to avoid this scam? Pay attention when the pumping is done. All of these scams are done more easily if you are distracted or in a hurry. Take you time, it can save you money.

Fifth scam at the gas station in Mexico

You go to pay and the attendant walks away. Another new attendant comes and ask for you to pay. How to avoid this scam? Watch the attendant, take note of what he looks like, ask where he is going, even go with him for your change. This scam does not happen often but still be on the look out.

Sixth scam at the gas station in Mexico

Attendant is behind your car filling it up but also has  container that they out some gas into. This makes you pay for more gas then you get. This scam does not happen often because it is hard to be out of mirrors view. To avoid this scam (especially if your tank lid is in the back of your car) get out of the car to watch or pretend to stretch to keep an eye on things.

Seventh scam at the gas station in Mexico

The attendant ask if you want some oil or other specialty liquid for your engine. If your levels are low they might sell you a bottle of something. They show you the bottle and then start pouring it in. You might even see them do this through the gap in the hood of the car. So what is the scam? They show you a new bottle but switch it out and only pretend to pour in a new bottle or anything at all. You just got scammed out of some pesos.

You can avoid this scam by not having them check levels or if they do, get out and watch them.

Eighth scam at the gas station

You go to pay with a credit card and they say they don’t accept them. They offer to take US dollars but will then just exchange it at the rate they give you.

You can avoid this scam because you know that they do take cards. You can also make sure you have pesos on hand and use them.

How to avoid issues at Pemex gas stations

One way to avoid some scams is ask for how many liters of gas you want. If you know your car and the capacity of the tank then you can tell how much you need to fill the tank.

Always being attentive while filling up is good and keep this list in mind when you fill up.

What Pemex gas stations are the worst offenders?

Most scams at the pump happen at gas stations where tourist fill up more often. We find stations on the edge of Playa Del Carmen on the highway and in Tulum to be the worst culprits.

If you have a local station and you fill up often, it is nice to go there often. They will recognize you and you have a much better chance of not getting a scam tried on you.

Don’t feel bad taking your time, even getting out of the car and watching. Never pay before the gas is pumped. Since you cannot pump your own gas, you have to be mindful of those that do. Educated tourist are the worst enemy of Pemex scams.

Tip: Gas stations where taxis fill up are often know to be better stations.

The one thing that is not a scam is the extra service they offer. Most will offer or already start to wash your windshield and check your oil or fluids for you. This is a way for them to honestly earn tips. Most of these attendants work hard and in the heat all day. Usually a tip for washing the windows or good care grants a 5-10 peso tip.

Remember that as a consumer you have rights in Mexico. You can report scams to Profeco. Profeco is the Mexican consumer agency. This agency also visits Pemex gas stations and makes sure they are measuring the gas correctly that goes into your car. For more about Profeco you can see our article here.

Happy motering and scam free travel.

Do you have a Pemex gas station story? We would love to hear about it. Let us know in the comments below.

You might also want to read our article about scams related to timeshares and vacation clubs in our article here.

Also our article on how to avoid tourist traps and scams in Playa Del Carmen article might interest you.

52 Comments on How to Avoid Scams at the Gas Station

  1. hamish shaw // April 6, 2016 at 9:42 AM // Reply

    After prepaying in cash the pump STOPPED WORKING?? They did not give any change back as they pretended not to remember how much we paid them. Another time they dropped one of the bills and while we went to pick it up the attendant tried to pocket one of the other bills – we caught him.
    They say the credit card machine does not work – just to get cash and work a scam – I NEVER pay cash and always get out to watch them pumping.

    • Mr.Yucatan // April 6, 2016 at 10:17 AM // Reply

      Thanks for your tips and observations. It is very frustrating that there are so many ways people at the gas stations try to scam you. We are always on the look out for the bad guys.

    • hi there,

      We just got scammed at Pemex station in Cancun on our way to return our car to American Car Rental. I gave my husband a 500 peso note to pay, and actually told him to take note of that, the attendant was asking my husband how his vacation was etc, my husband gave him the 500, and the attendant immediately showed him that he gave him only 50 pesos. My husband than thought maybe I gave him a 500 and a 50 peso note and he might have dropped it; but I absolutely gave him a 500 peso note. It happened so fast, we did not realize it until later. We did report this to the American car rental guy, but his response was relatively indifferent. So buyers beware! and I would suggest holding on to your cash, until you see the change being offered and also stating out very loud what you are giving to them.

  2. Sam Gillings // June 6, 2016 at 4:54 PM // Reply

    This is a very important article for people that move here or are going to be driving here to read. There are so many scams at the gas stations in Mexico I hate it. I always get out and watch them. I have had several try the switch of money on me. One time it was even a 20 for 200 peso note. They are not even the same color! I get after them each time and tip honest people at the gas station.

    • Mr.Yucatan // June 6, 2016 at 6:08 PM // Reply

      Yes we felt it important to tell people about gas stations here. We like to warn people about bad services and scams so people can focus on having a good vacation. This year there is a chance for outside gas companies to have gas stations so it will be interesting to see if things change and there is more competition.

  3. It is good you mention these scams because I have been at Pemex gas stations where they flip the money around. I wish Pemex cared more about the employees either paying them more or doing surprise inspections so the scams stop. Maybe this year when new gas stations open that are not Pemex, there will be some competition to improve.

  4. Just the other day I went to pay for gas and the guy flipped the bill around so fast I had to think. I cannot wait until there is some competition with these gas stations and they have to think if they want to scam people.

  5. These are good tips for tourist and locals. I hate when the gas station attendants try to pull a fast one and scam people.

  6. It is good you educate tourist to these scams at Pemex gas stations. They are pretty slick coming up with new ones to pull over on tourist.

  7. First time in playa del carmen and got the fliparoo!!! I did not know about it until I thought I was going crazy! but I remember the station and have the receipt to put them on blast on line with their address and station number so people can avoid those stations. People we all should just stop tipping them altogether due to some punk thieves ruining it for the hard working honest people and maybe they get the message and stop. One of the stations was # 12118 Autopista merida cancun km 300. The other is 6994 at Km 339 both have con artists working here! From now on I qill definitely keep an eye wide open and clearly show and remind them what I an handing to them before I let go of my money

    • We are glad you are aware of the scams. Some of the trouble is the owners are honest but get an employee or to that are bad and then they fire them but they go to work at another station. Of course owners can be dishonest as well. For know we can all just keep alert to their scams and we will post new ones that develop.

  8. How can I make sure that I get the amount of what I pay for ? Short liters???

    • There is a government agency called Profeco that makes inspections of the stations. So usually this is not an issue. Also knowing your cars tank size is good because if your tank is empty and it only holds 40 liters and they tell you it is 45 they put in, you know something is wrong.

  9. These attendants are crooks and liars and should all be fired. If they lose the tourist business the whole damn country is done. Alas, it is Mexico, but the government and the workers are playing with fire. Karma will get em.

  10. Visiting Playa Del Carmen this time we decided to rent a car and make a few days trip to Bacalar. On the way back, just passed Tulum, we stopped at gas station. It wasn’t Pemex, I don’t remember the name, looks new to me. But scam was the same, the attendant tried to switch 200 pesos bill to 20.
    I even gave him another 200, but then realized what happened and came back. The attendant quietly returned 200. He probably was able to read my face. Be aware!

    • That is good to hear your report. We were hopping with the new “La Gas” stations they would be in competition with the established monopoly of Pemex, but to no avail. We will work hard to keep exposing scams so there is more pressure to be honest. We are glad you caught it.

  11. I think, if anyone has information about the “GOOD” gas stations and locations, these information should be put on the websites as well. I heard so much about the “BAD” and seemed that there are no good stations all around, which are almost unbelievable. The information about the “GOOD” stations will help promoting their businesses and get more tourists to come to their places.

    • This would be good but the problem is not bad gas stations it is the employees. Many times if the manager fires a bad employee they often just go to work at another station. So having a list of “Good” Station would be pointless. For people living here, you can try to fill up at the same station and the people get to know you, and you have less issues.

  12. My experience is that all the attendants are thieves.
    If they start asking you personal questions, they are only
    Only trying to throw you off guard. They are slight of hand artists. Never hand over several large bills at
    Once. They will switch a bill for one much smaller. If you are going to buy gas in Mexico, you had better be
    on guard.

    • Well we would not go as far as saying all gas attendants are thieves but there are enough of them that are bad that it is an issue. We have had some very pleasant women that pump gas and could not be more nice and honest and some pleasant guys pump the gas as well. However being alert is a must at the Pemex stations.

  13. We were scammed at a Pemex in Cozumel. We asked for 5 gallons to fill a rental to 3/4 tank, and we got charged 587 pesos for 5 gallons, if we really got that amount since it is in liters!! I believe they did not zero out the pump. There were four attendants, and I think one of them was blocking the display, so it could not be seen. One even had a smart phone connected to the pump! Probably to change the numbers. The thing is you don’t know about the scams before it happens, unless somebody else you know has been there.

  14. Sounds very familiar! Just came back home from Riviera Maya yesterday and during our 2 week trip they tried number 1 and kind of number 4. It got my adrenaline lever up every time even thinking of filling the tank.

    I think the money switching is definitely the most common, but it’s also very easy to notice if you know of it. If they try it just jump off the car and start shouting at the attendant of trying this very old trick 🙂 Usually they became speechless and hand over the right amount of change.
    Not zeroing the pump however seemed not possible anymore. As at least every time I saw the pump zeroed automatically after they picked up the hose.

    Everything else is avoidable by paying attention to the pump and the readings while they fill the tank.

    • Thanks for your comments. This issue seems to come up around Christmas and high season as we have had several people comment on this today. We will make sure we warn tourist now about it and re-remind our readers about this issue. Thanks for your comments.

  15. Unfortunately we got scammed today! We did read about this but still were caught off guard!
    This happened at the lagas station right after leaving Tulum.
    The scammer switched the 500 notes for 50 in a blink of an eye. I seriously thought I had given him 2 notes of 50 but when I checked my wallet later on I realized what happened!
    Tourists please beware!!!!
    First time we experienced this and this left us with a bitter taste!!!

    • So sorry this happened to you. It is good to hear from tourist that this is still going on so we have a pulse of what is happening and where. We were hoping that with new gas stations other then Pemex that there would be more competition but this is not the case. Same workers, same scammers, same scams.

  16. Great article guys…I was just in Tulum and they tried 3 of the aforementioned scams on me at the same time. I couldn’t believe it. I googles this after realize that non of what has happened made any sense.


  17. We got scammed in Cozumel even though we were prepared for deceitful attendants. It left us with such a bad feeling ruining an otherwise delightful time on the island. We filled up our rental before returned the car and ended up paying 700 pesos for approx 10 litres. The station was at 95th avenue south and avenue Lic Benito Juarez. When we told the car rental agency about the experience she advised that next time we rented on the island to return the car without filling up and she would look after it for us. In my opinion I might pay a premium to the rental agency but it would be a lot cheaper than being scammed!

    • Sorry this happened to you. We do thank you for your experience because it does help us know what is a trend and also what to warn other tourist about. We try to keep things enjoyable for everyone and root out the things to look out for.

  18. Happened to me at the Pemex Northbound just before the turnoff for the airport in Cancun July 2016. Since I visit Playa often, Ive made this Pemex a routine stop with my rental car. I always get out of the car and watch the process yet I got the 50 peso 500 scam played on me by a female attendant. Now I hold back, make eye contact with the attendant say the amount out loud I am giving them and make them pull the bill from my fingers rather than just hand it to them.

  19. They way I have found that is the safest, ask for a certain number of litres. 20L, 30L, something like that. Watch them zero it out, and let it run. Assuming they don’t dump some gas into another container (I always get out to stretch my legs) they have to show you the amount, with the number of litres on the screen also. The only problem is that you need to have change more likely. small price to pay in my opinion.

  20. Tulum Pemex scam #1 today! Attendant showed zeroed clock and filled up 675 pesos. Given 3 green 200’s and a 100. Switched one 200 for a blue 20 to rip us off 180 pesos. The 3 of us literally screamed NO! at him. Backtracked and switched it back to 200 instantly!! Deserved a tip for audacious brazen behavior!

    This snidey thief (Pemex on right going into Tulum from PDC – just before Scotiabank) washed our windows and asked about our home countries to gain confidence. However alarm bells started to ring when, observing the cash coming out of a backseat passengers purse he OPENED THE BACK DOOR to reach for the gas payment!

    Warning. These theives watch everything going on inside the car through the back side window – assessing value and cash while filling up and chatting amiably. Have the cash ready first before you pull up. Lock the other 3 doors. Incredible behavior. Broad daylight robbery by a govt employee in a federal govt facility!

  21. Thanks to this article I avoided a scam just a few hours ago. Guy pocketed the 500 peso note and showed me a 50 peso note. I stood my ground and even tried reaching into his pocket a couple times. When he saw I wasn’t backing down he shrugged and walked off

    • Good to hear you did not get scammed. It seems to be their usual response to someone catching them. They walk to the office and return with the money. We hate to see this happen so we work hard to alert people.

  22. Scam #1 literally just happened to me. Gave $500 next thing I know he tells me I gave him a $50. It happened so quick that I didn’t even fight it. Be careful out there.

    • Yes, this just happened to me in CABO. PEMEX at the Airport. I am so good, got out of the car and that happened. F’ing cheats. Now they (Cabo/Mexico) lost all of my future dollars. Dumb fks do not know how they are screwing their country.

  23. At the Pemex station just right next to cancun airport I tried to pay with my credit card but the card got declined twice after which I tried with another card. The guy even asked for my ID. When I got home I realised the employee swapped my card and gave me the blocked card of another person. He obviously had time to use my card for thousands of dollars worth of transactions.

  24. Great article and comments. Headed to Cancun/Tulum in a couple of weeks and will be renting a car, so this is very helpful. But, one thing I don’t see covered is what to do if you catch someone in the act or think you’re being scammed. Should you challenge the attendant? Go see the manager, leaving the family in the locked car? What would happen if the wife filmed each station transaction on her iPhone from pull in to pull out, would the sight of being filmed deter scammers? Thanks for the additional help.

    • Hello Mark

      That is a good question. The best thing is to get out of the car and ask in Spanish for what you want in gas. If you don’t speak Spanish then just the basics. Watch them carefully and when you go to pay, hold out the money and give it to them slowly. If they pull the trick of bills, just ask for your change. Sometimes they go to the office and return with your money. You can ask for the manager but you should be able to solve it with the attendant. They don’t get upset, just sheepish when you catch them. Just play the game, get your money and leave. No sense in creating a big scene after you get your money and giving a speech about no stealing.

  25. brian wilkins // March 21, 2017 at 9:10 AM // Reply

    4 1/2 months in Mexico and I thought I was getting away scam free at the Pemex’s until March 18th at Pemex #11989 on the 15D Cuota near Miguel Hidalgo. After filling up my RV with 78 liters (1239 pesos) the attendant tried 3 times to process on my Mastercard and each time it didn’t work. I finally paid effectivo (cash) and proceeded on the Teotihuacan. Checking my card balance on line a few days later there was the 1239 peso charge against the credit card. I hope Mastercard will help me with this upon my return to Canada in May as it is too far out of my way, and too much hassle, to go back and try to argue it out with the Pemex folks. The lesson here is I will never use the credit card again at Pemex, only cash, and ideally have the correct amount of cash available.

  26. Luc Dhondt // April 25, 2017 at 2:56 PM // Reply

    I was with a rented car taking gasoline in Tulum, adress Carretera Cancún – Tulum, SM. 10 Mza. 03. Lote 2, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico. I had asked to fill up the tank, that was done by one guy.
    A very friendly second guy was giving me tips what road to take, etc, in the mean time cleaning the front window. Suddenly, the first guy had filled up the tank, and was showing the amount to pay. No number of liters on the tankterminal, only the amount of Pesos to pay. I added a tip for the guy who had cleaned the window. After leaving, I noticed that the tank was filled up only partly, but had paid for a full tank. Later on my trip, filling up a second time, I understood I was scammed.

  27. We were scammed at the Pemex just outside the Cancun airport in June 2015. We had used up all our pesos knowing we were on our way home and planned to use a card at the gas station before returning our rental. All cards were “declined” and the attendant said we had to get cash or they would call the police. He got into our car and told us we had to drive to an ATM but his English was terrible and we didn’t know where to go. He directed us to a sketchy warehouse complex with a guarded gate which ended up another issue all the while our flight time was getting closer and closer. We ended up taking him to the car rental place, they couldn’t help us, so he actually came to the airport with us where we found an ATM and gave him the cash. As soon as we got home we cancelled all our cards. One had been charged for the gas so that attendant got a nice tip for his run around that day. I will always have the rental place refill the tank from now on.

    • Mr.Yucatan // May 29, 2017 at 8:00 AM // Reply

      Well we have never heard a story like this, so hopefully this was a one time thing a couple of years ago. But nonetheless, we tend not to be surprised what we hear that tricky gas station attendants do.

  28. Just got scammed twice in one day in tulum and cancun when driving back to the airport to return home. The gas station in Tulum informed us the credit card machine was not working after we had asked to confirm they took cards before filling up. We were told we had to get cash so we left IDs and got cash. Charge showed up up on card when we got back to the states (attendant pocketed the $$$). In retrospect, there were 3 attendance chatting up my husband and distracting him so we were probably targeted. Next fraud, At Pemex at cancun airport, they overcharged our card and also stole the card! Attendant asked for our ID and card and went away for a while. When he came back he returned the ID and not the card in a quick switch. We were rushing to return the car and didn’t realize it until we got to our terminal. Immediately called our credit card to cancel the card. There were about 5 other transactions that day at other gas stations around after we left Mexico. And the gas station charge was well over what it should have been. Be aware – save pesos for gas and don’t let them try and distract you. Such a sad way to end a beautiful trip to Mexico.

    • Mr.Yucatan // June 3, 2017 at 10:42 AM // Reply

      Thank you for your experience and sorry that were not good. We have heard more and more gas stations not accepting cards and there seem to be more scams related to this. We hope this information is beneficial to our readers.

  29. I got scammed today. Ran my card 3 times out of sight and then said the machine wasn’t working and I needed to pay cash. I paid cash, in pesos. I then checked with my CC and saw the charges. I had the charges declined so I didn’t lose anything. Poverty does not make a thief. Thieves are the scum of the earth.

    • Mr.Yucatan // June 4, 2017 at 4:09 PM // Reply

      We are not sure the exact scam they are pulling, but more and more the attendants are saying the card machine is not working. Some don’t even want to run a card. We know skimmers are possible. Maybe they are trying to charge cards multiple times and the station manager is in on it. Thank you for your comments. They all help us to have a clear picture what is going on and help warn others.

      • One attendant ran my card while another chatted me up. Then the first attendant handed the machine to the second attendant. Attendant #2 told me the “wireless problem” and said I needed to pay cash. Thankfully I had the correct amount of pesos and handed it to him and left. I was at the Pemex right by the Europcar rental at the airport. Its sad that these thieves can tarnish a trip and reflect so poorly on Mexican people, which I have great respect for.

        Pemex should allow people to pump their own gas and use credit card machines.

        • Mr.Yucatan // June 6, 2017 at 6:57 PM // Reply

          That idea would seem to alleviate some of the issues. We will keep your suggestion in mind if we ever get to talk to Pemex or promote that in forums.

  30. Returning the rental car in Cozumel, stopped at the Pemex station downtown to fill up. The attendant ran my credit card and then said they had a wireless problem, so I paid cash. Very suspicious, so I checked my credit card statement when I got home and there it was. A US$56 charge for gasoline. I never signed a credit card slip, so am disputing the charge through my bank.

    • Mr.Yucatan // June 21, 2017 at 7:32 PM // Reply

      Hello Doug

      Thank you for your report. This type of thing of saying card machines are not working is happening more and more. Letting us know and other readers helps keep people aware of scams. Thanks again.

  31. Another victim.Scammed.. STAY from Pemex gas station on North side Cozumel Island.

    Pretend my card didn’t work.. took 400 pesos is cash from me as well. In all I paid $69 for 8 liters of gas.. Makes you want to drag them down the road to help see the who the real Banditos are…

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