Drive-off rip-offs rise at petrol stations

MOTORISTS are resorting to crime to fill their tanks.

Drive-offs have spiked in South Africa after more fuel price hikes this year, following a trend which has reached "epidemic levels" in the UK and Australia.

Over the past few weeks petrol station owners throughout the country have reported incidents where motorists refuel and drive off without paying .

"It is a national problem. It is happening all over and it is on the increase. It started last year and is gradually increasing," Fuel Retailers' Association head Reggie Sibiya said.

A Durban petrol station owner said his garage had been hit twice a week over the past month.

"We have a situation now where our staff have to be extra vigilant and treat every motorist as a potential petrol thief," he said.

A Johannesburg fuel retailer said several motorists fled without paying after distracting petrol attendants with requests for oil.

In many cases if the petrol attendant is found to have been negligent or to have colluded with the driver, the stolen amount is recovered from his salary.

Blue security managing director Darryn le Grange said the Durban company received petrol theft reports every week.

In one case the driver of a Toyota Quantum filled up with R800 fuel and fled.

In other incidents, bakkie and BMW drivers drove away with stolen fuel in broad daylight.

Most drive-offs occur early in the morning or after 6pm.

Sibiya said the only solution was for motorists to pay before their vehicles are refuelled. "We really have to get used to upfront payment. There is no law that says you cannot pay for fuel upfront. That's the best way.

"Even if you have CCTV cameras, the car sometimes has false number plates. When you report the car to police, it cannot be traced. It really is a mission to locate the criminal," Sibiya said.

Le Grange said many garage owners in Durban invested in pumps that enable petrol attendants to siphon petrol out of tanks to deal with motorists who claim to have forgotten their bank cards or cash at home.

Sibiya was aware of the pumps. But this did little to curb drive- offs because the motorist would be "long gone" before the petrol attendant could even reach for it.

He said drive-off losses were aggravated by technology failures when bank cards were used, resulting in fuel retailers losing thousands of rands each year .

Meanwhile, Australia's Herald Sun yesterday reported that Melbourne police had laid 262 charges in relation to petrol thefts, with one woman being charged with 127 offences.

In Britain, its Petrol Retailers' Association said fuel theft had reached "epidemic levels" after the number of incidents last year doubled compared to 2012. - Nivashni Nair