Deterring Drive-Offs

C-stores debate drive-off prevention strategies as gas prices soar.

As gas prices skyrocket, so do drive-offs at the pump, where customer fill up without paying, leading some c-stores to get proactive.

Sgt. Chris Scott of the Des Moines Police Department told the Des Moines Register that thefts most frequently occur when gas prices take a significant leap in a short period. “We have noticed an increase in gas drive-offs since gas prices have gone up. However, the number of drive-offs is not as high as it’s been in the past.”

But with prices for regular gasoline creeping north of $3.75 per gallon in Iowa, and a whopping $4.30 in Chicago this week, convenience store chains are taking preventative action, with many requiring customers to prepay and installing cameras to catch the license plate numbers of drive-offs.

“We don’t notice grocery stores, department stores or electronics stores setting their products out on the sidewalk, unsecured, to let their customers take the merchandise and pay later if they choose to do so,” said Altoona Police Chief John Gray.

Technology and pre-payment requirements help eliminate many gasoline thefts since the last major gasoline price spike in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, the Des Moines Register reported.

QuikTrip Corp., for example, began using a new security system in 2005 where customers can have their driver’s licenses scanned and then receive a PumpStart card. The card activates the pump, allowing customers to fill up before entering the store to pay and purchase other items.

The system helps prevent theft because customers must either pay first or use a Pump Start card, which keeps a record of that customer’s driver’s license information. Before the PumpStart card program began, QuikTrip lost about $12 million annually to gasoline thefts, Mike Thornbrugh, spokesman for QuikTrip, told the Des Moines Register.

But other chains feel a few rotten apples shouldn’t spoil the convenience of an open pump for the majority of trustworthy customers. Kum & Go, for example continues to allow its customers to pay after they pump. The decision has not been without incident. On March 20, one motorist zoomed away from a Kum & Go store in Clive, Iowa, without paying after filling his tank with $19.85 in fuel.  When a police officer pulled him over, driver said he forgot to pay.

Nationwide, forgetfulness is often the excuse used in such cases, Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores told the Des Moines Register. “The level of forgetfulness is directly related to the price of gas. It seems more than coincidence that it increases when prices increase. “

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