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Pre-pay policies preempt nonpaying gas customers

Desperate times can sometimes call for desperate measures, and with increasing gasoline prices, those desperate times may get more dire as the holidays near. One of the most desperate could be the theft of gasoline by driving from the pump without paying after filling up. While the thief might get a ‘free’ tank of gas at the time, the consequences for stealing ‘ and the impact on the rest of the consumers ‘ can be immense.
According to an online article from the National Association of Convenience Stores, gasoline theft is more than a $100 million problem.
Statistics reported by NACS and published in the article, which dealt specifically with gasoline theft at convenience stores, stated that one in every 3,300 fill-ups was likely to result in theft, and that with each $60 stolen, 3,000 gallons of gas would need to be sold to offset the theft.
Judy Davis, manager of Circle K in Corydon, said she doesn’t see nearly that many drive-offs, and the ones she does see are usually ‘honest mistakes.’
Davis said the drive-offs at her store, near the intersection of state roads 62 and 135, usually happen when a customer, more likely a regular, comes in and gets distracted by conversation. She said she also sees when customers use a credit card at the pumps and turn it backwards, so the magnetic strip isn’t read and payment isn’t fulfilled.
According to NACS, no matter what thieves may think, they’re not somehow showing Exxon-Mobile and other companies that they won’t take it anymore. The theft of gasoline really only affects the convenience store owner, most of whom are only making one or two pennies of profit per gallon.
To prevent the thieves before they act, many gas stations owners have implemented a ‘pre-pay only’ policy on their pumps. At Davis’ station, three pumps were made pre-pay only several years ago, and the three that are ‘open’ are monitored by video cameras.
The cameras can catch the license plates of vehicles that leave without paying, Davis said, and thefts are reported to the police, just like any other theft.
Harrison County Prosecutor Dennis Byrd said he implemented a written statement of prosecution of gas thefts a few years ago, and sent the memo to all law enforcement agencies and gas station managers in the county.
In the statement, Byrd told all law enforcement officers to ‘do a complete and thorough investigation using all proper investigative techniques including obtaining all suspect and witness statements and compiling photo spreads or lineups to identify the perpetrator.’
Byrd said this written statement was made to clarify the perception that Harrison County would not prosecute drive-offs, which is untrue. However, gas theft doesn’t appear to be a crime wave in Harrison County.
‘We don’t see a lot coming through our office,’ Byrd said.
That seems to fit the data released by NACS, which concluded that in smaller towns and rural areas, gas theft is less likely to occur, simply because those persons attempting to steal gas might know the station managers or other customers at the store.
Yet, that doesn’t mean it never happens.
‘Every once in a while we’ll have a blatant thief come in and steal (gas),’ Davis said. ‘But that’s what good old security cameras are for.’
NACS reports gas theft is classified as a felony in Indiana, punishable by six months to one year in jail and up to a $10,000 fine, as well as a possible suspended license.