Crunching miles on Indian roads and still alive to talk about it!
There is a fuel station (popularly called a petrol bunk here in India) within 200 metres from my apartment complex. I usually fuel up my car as this is very easy as I drive out of my house. It is fairly busy and has a lot of 2 wheelers, a few cars, some auto-rickshaws and the occasional truck that comes in. I've had no bad runs here except for the wait before my car gets filled. They also have an air pump, so I can check and top up air in my tires before I drive away. Being a busy place, I thought they would be good.
How It Unfolded
So I drove in and switched off the engine. I opened the fuel cover, stepped out of my car and the attendant greeted me. I spoke clearly, "Full tank, I'd like to pay with a card." I kept my eyes on the tank and did not give my card as another attendant with the swipe machine requested me for the card. This was my first safety move. I did not get distracted.
Surprisingly, the person pumping in the petrol stopped at 300 Rs. I repeated my request firmly and loudly, "Full tank, I'd like to pay with a card." He joked about how he probably did not hear me the first time and I asked him to continue pumping fuel. My eyes stayed fixed on the pump reading. Before resuming, both attendants tried to distract me with small talk and repeated requests for my card to pay for the fuel, "Please CONTINUE to fill the fuel. I'm looking", I said. Realising they couldnt scam me, they filled up the fuel. I kept my eyes on the reading till the fuel nozzle was out and noted down the reading aloud so they could hear. I was expecting them to still try the scam, but they realised I was smarter than them and charged me correctly. I double checked the reading, the bill amount, the charged amount and then left.
After reading this, could you figure out what the scam was about? Read on to figure out the whole story!
How This Scam Works
The attendants will stop filling at Rs. 300. When you tell them that you wanted more, they will distract you. If you look away, they will pretend to reset the fuel pump and fill up till the intended amount. Then they will demand you pay what is displayed plus the initial Rs. 300. They will claim they have reset the pump before they resumed filling. For example, if you requested Rs. 1000 fuel, they will stop at Rs. 300. Once they resume, they will stop at Rs. 700 and say the pump was reset after the intial Rs. 300. If you aren't eagle-eyed, you can easily be defenseless. The extra money goes into the attendants pockets and they probably pay others to keep quiet about it. They can easily do this 100 times a day!
How to Spot This Scam
When a fuel attendant stops at a point which is different from what you requested is the best time to spot it. Once the fuelling has 'resumed', it will be difficult to spot it and you may not even realize what happened.
How Do You Prevent This Scam?
- Always position yourself in a place where you have a clear view of the fuel pump reading and can also see the attendant filling fuel.
- Never get distracted when the attendant talks to you or requests your card. Sometimes they may try pointing out that your tire pressure is low or that the windscreen is dirty. You can save these kind of conversations for after the fueling is over.
- Always ensure the pump is zeroed before the attendant pumps fuel.
- Look at the final amount and pay only that much!
What if I Realize Only at the End of it All
Often, you may suspect this scam only when they demand the extra 300 Rs at the end. You can still redeem yourself. The petrol pumps have records of the amount filled and times stored in them and can be printed out directly from the pumps. Request this immediately. While you request this, take out your phone and record them—this intimidates them. Also use a spare phone to call the authorities—either the fuel station support number or the cops. Demand for the complaint book as you do this.
The problem is if the previous person filled for Rs. 300 and this shows in their records. If this happens, then demand CCTV footage to closely check times of filling for the two vehicles.
If you are firm and show them you know what exactly you are doing, they will probably raise their voice, be impolite and finally say that they are waiving off the amount as a favour. You can then leave saying you have already complained to their head office.
What to Do If This Happens to You
Send a documented complaint to authorities and the customer service of the fuel station. Use social media like Twitter or Facebook to lodge the complaint too as they are more likely to take faster action. In India, the action by police is unpredictable. A lot depends on how you 'scare' the attendants so they feel they are in big trouble. The other people in the station are usually in on this. The bystanders may not help, but fellow-riders and drivers may help you if they are convinced.
If you have dashcam footage, use this as a source of 'threat' against the employees. I have a dash-cam, but it's pointed to the front of the car. Even then, I could have used this if I had been duped.
Have you been scammed at a gas station? Did you suspect a scam in any of the gas stations? Tell us about it in the comments section.