Test Program May Limit Gas Thefts at Fuel Retailers

It may not yet be worth its weight in gold, but the high price of gasoline has made it a top target of thieves.

So, customers may soon see changes in how they buy their fuel designed to make it tougher to steal.

Mike Thornbrugh, spokesman for the QuikTrip gas station chain, said his company has begun to test a program that requires customers to sign up for a special card that he thinks will solve the crime wave.

"We think this makes it all but impossible to steal gas," Thornbrugh said. "We've been testing it in three markets and the customers and law enforcement people there really seem to love it."

Thornbrugh said QuikTrip customers who pay at the pump with their credit or debit cards won't notice any difference. But those who like to pay with cash inside the store will have to sign up for a pump start card.

"The card doesn't have any identifying factors other than the person's driver's license number," Thornbrugh said. "It's not a credit card, so there is no application. They just come in and take five seconds to get a card, then when they want to fill up, they run it through the card reader on the pump."

Credit or cash, Thornbrugh said the station knows the identity of the pumper before any gas is dispensed.

If the person drives off without paying, the card is immediately deactivated and the company can forward the driver's license number to police for prosecution, according to Thornbrugh.

The cards have been put into service in QuikTrips in Tulsa, Okla; Wichita, Kansas and in the Kansas City area.

Troy Police Chief Bill Brown said the card may be just the sort of tool law enforcement officers need to catch gas crooks in the metro-east.

"I've been with the department for 28 years," Brown said. "And gas theft has been a problem since Day 1. It happens all the time.

"Whether or not we catch the person who stole the gas often depends on what type of security the station has in place," Brown said.

Most often, Brown said thieves are caught when a security camera catches their license plate number.

"If we have a way to identify them, that's the best way to catch them," Brown said.

Edwardsville Police Department Lt. Rich Dustman said, if police can identify the problem, the law gives them the power to make the petrol pilferer pay.

"About two years ago they bumped up the penalties to make it a Class IV felony," Dustman said of stealing gas. "You could get a year in jail or a $2,500 fine, plus they could lose their license. I think the stickers gas stations put right there on the pumps to inform people of that have done a great deal to solve the problem."

Thornbrugh said up to two cents of the price of every gallon of gas you buy goes to cover the loss of stolen gas.