New Gas Theft Tactics Emerge with Rising Gas Prices

Thieves have changed techniques. Here’s what’s happening and what you can do to protect your property.

March 18, 2022

Gas Tank Opening on a Car

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—High gas prices have led to an increase in gas theft. While gas theft has traditionally meant drive-offs or siphoning, prepay requirements for cash customers and the prevalence of locking gas tank caps have led to new forms of theft.

Here are a few of the newest tactics:

Pump bypass systems: Across the country, retailers have been hit by thieves who are changing the pulsar inside the dispenser that reads gallons dispensed, and at what price. In most cases, criminals allow multiple cars to fill up at the same pump at a greatly reduced price.

“It changes the price but keeps the gallons the same, so they can change the amount that they're being charged down to a nickel or down or a penny a gallon, and they could pump 100 gallons,” Ned Bowman, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, told Tampa Bay’s Fox News 13.

Stealing from USTs: Other thieves are parking minivans over underground storage tank (UST) lids and then pulling hundreds of gallons of fuel into large holding tanks that are filled via a trap door. In Houston, thieves hit the Fuqua Express station three days in a row, stealing more than 300 gallons of fuel each time, according to CNN.

Drilling gas tanks: Even more common across the country, drivers are reporting that their car gas tanks have been drilled into and the gas was siphoned. Thieves steal up to 20 gallons of fuel in larger vehicles, leaving vehicle owners with a $1,000 repair bill and spilled fuel in driveways or roadways. Businesses with car fleets parked overnight are particularly susceptible to this crime.

“The spiraling cost of gasoline has meant skyrocketing reports of gasoline theft from retailer's stations across the country—and that’s to no one’s surprise given the greater the potential attraction for thieves,” long-time c-store loss prevention consultant Rollie Trayte told NACS.

Trayte offered suggestions to help retailers minimize the likelihood of gas theft at their locations: 

  • Go prepay: Most gas stations and c-stores realize that prepay can help control loss, even if it is less convenient. NACS research found that gas theft peaked in 2005 after gas prices first topped $3 per gallon, but many stations addressed the problem by requiring prepay.
  • Lighting: Fueling canopies should be well lit—not just for safety but also because good lighting can be a proven loss deterrent.
  • Watch your fill caps: Watch the fill-cap area of your parking lot where tankers fill your tanks. Be especially aware of any vans, trucks or trailers parked over the fill caps. Thieves can drop a hose into tanks to pump gas out of the ground and into large storage tanks hidden inside a truck or van. Position  exterior cameras to monitor the tanker-drop area. Consider using locking fill caps if theft from underground tanks is a problem in your area.
  • Reduce window clutter: Keep store windows clear or at least arrange promotional signage to permit a good line of sight from the counter/checkout area to gas pumps to monitor activity.
  • Monitor pumps on the periphery: Pay particular attention to the dispensers furthest from the store front. The furthest pumps often are the favorite place for thieves to try stolen credit cards or manipulate dispensers.
  • Record at the forecourt: Invest in quality digital cameras to monitor the parking lot and fuel dispensers. The cost of high-quality cameras producing sharp images has dropped considerably and can make license plate images easily readable in the event of damage or loss. 
  • Review validated security measures: Communicate with local police officers to stay attuned to local crime trends, review loss-prevention measures with team members, and never, never fight, chase or confront thieves—call the police and be a good witness.
NACS has resources for retailers to help develop the best course of action for keeping their employees and customers safe.