The pump attendants at some filling stations in Ho Chi Minh City are in fact skillful con artists capable of short-changing customers in just the blink of an eye, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper journalists going undercover as motorbike riders reported.
Dishonest employees at the gas stations used to manipulate the pump gauges while serving drivers to cheat them, but such a trick has grown outdated, replaced by a brand new one.
Nguyen Dac Hoang Long, 19, who works at Filling Station No.1 at 220 National Highway 13 in Ward 26, Binh Thanh District, said the trendy trick now is to “perform magic” with the change before giving the money to customers.
According to videos filmed by the undercover Tuoi Tre reporters, three attendants at the venue, including Long, Tran Phuoc and one unnamed man, would short-change a number of customers on a daily basis using their ‘magical hands.’
When returning the change to drivers, the con artists would count the banknotes slowly, but would secretly keep the last bill with their concealed fingers when they actually handed the money to the customers.
The trick works best when a customer pays a VND500,000 (US$22.32) bill for VND50,000 worth of gasoline.
The dishonest pump attendants would count four VND100,000 ($4.46) banknotes and one VND50,000 bill slowly in front of the customers, then rapidly retain the last VND100,000 banknote when giving the change to them.
As observed by Tuoi Tre, the three at Filling Station No.1 would perform their trick during rush hour, between 6:00 am and 8:00 am and 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm, when most people are in a hurry and rarely check the change they are given.
Besides the conmen at the filling station, a man named Ha Van Thanh, who works for the 27-7 filling station at 624 Kha Van Can Street in Thu Duc District, also applies the same ‘magic’ to short-change customers.
At 8:00 am on December 24, a woman named Huynh Thi Bong asked to have her bike refilled with VND50,000 worth of gasoline, and paid Thanh with a VND500,000 banknote.
The man then gave Bong VND350,000 as change, having applied the trick to steal one VND100,000 banknote right before her eyes.
However, Bong counted the money before leaving and realized she had been short-changed. Upon hearing her complaint, Thanh immediately gave her a VND100,000 bill and came back to stand behind the pumps without saying a word.
“He counted the change twice and I watched him very carefully but really did not see when he had withdrawn one banknote before giving the cash to me,” Bong said.
After Bong, Thanh performed the same trick to fool five other customers, but were detected in all attempts as he was not as skillful as Long and the con artists at Filling Station No.1
The ‘falling money’ excuse
When their short-changing scam is detected and customers demand their full change, the dishonest attendants would act as if the missing banknote had accidentally fallen to the ground and say sorry to the drivers.
On December 22, a woman named Doan Thi Huong fell victim to the unnamed attendant at Filling Station No.1, when she only received three VND100,000 bills, instead of four, and one VND50,000 banknote.
Huong left the place for a while but suddenly returned to ask for the missing VND100,000 banknote. The attendant then jumped out, dropping the bill to the ground and shouting to Huong: “Look, your money is on the ground.”
He then picked up the banknote and gave it back to the woman.
The ‘falling money’ trick is well pulled by all three short-changing tricksters at Filling Station No.1, as well as Thanh at the gas station on Kha Van Can.
Long (in uniform) short-changes a customer.
Long revealed that he had to watch the customers carefully to decide if they were potential victims.
“There are people who would never return to ask for the missing bill,” he said. “We also focus on customers coming from elsewhere, as those living around here will quickly learn the trick and unmask us.”
For those who realize they are duped right after receiving the change, Long would immediately give them the missing banknote before they start complaining. In “urgent situations,” Long would give the ‘falling money’ excuse and act as if it was the customer’s fault for dropping their money.
Making a killing
While Thanh has only been a short-changer for several months, Long, having yet to reach his 20, has been playing the magic-like trick for seven years.
Long receives a modest monthly wage of VND4 million ($179), but his real income could be more than VND20 million ($893) thanks to short-changing drivers.
The young man is able to steal up to VND1.5 million ($6.7) from customers on a daily basis, and even on his ‘unlucky’ days, short-changing people still earns him as much as VND400,000 ($17.86).
Long now spends his free time ‘teaching’ the trick to more pump attendants who want to earn easy extra money.
The manager of Filling Station No.1 said he had briefed his superiors on the cheat, as seen in a Tuoi Tre video. The company has yet to disclose how long it will take for Long and his coworkers to be punished.
In the meantime, a representative of the 27-7 filling station said Thanh will be sacked.