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industry focus

Increased petrol prices fuel drive-offs

New figures reveal a sharp rise in drivers leaving petrol forecourts without paying – the so-called organised offence of "bilking". 

These "drive-offs" are part of a huge £100m a year problem that has been rising as petrol prices increase. 

Research presented by ITV News in October reveals the criminal techniques that have become widespread - including "double tanking", where thieves carry more than one fuel container to maximise their gains. 

A growing number of offenders are also using false number plates. 

The latest figures given to ITV News by the British Oil Security Syndicate show there are now around 1.5 million non-payment incidents a year - costing each site £7,500 on average.

A typical "drive- off" is worth just over £50 and the average forecourt is now suffering around ten non-payment incidents a month.

The data and CCTV obtained for their "shops and robbers" report highlights a crime wave which is having a big impact on workers, businesses and communities.

Petrol retailer Hemant Tandon said: "To watch someone filling up on your forecourt and then essentially driving off with your hard money in their tanks is a heart breaking feeling".

Anxious forecourt staff are not just dealing with "drive-offs" - most non-payments are people saying they have no means to pay after filling-up, leaving retailers chasing what's owed.

The AA has said it believes more retailers will switch to payment in advance pumps in future. However, that would drastically reduce footfall inside their shops, giving them yet another financial hit.

Many retailers fear drivers think that the crime is almost victimless, because oil companies make huge profits from fuel, yet many forecourts are actually run by small family firms and making relatively small margins.  

Some industry experts predict more garages will close as a result of high crime losses, leaving some areas less well served.

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