With gas prices steadily climbing, the last thing anyone wants is to find their gas tank unexpectedly empty. Look out for thieves possibly looking to score free fuel at your expense.
Theft of gas poses serious danger risks. Interfering with gas pipes or gas meters is a dangerous crime, putting personal safety on the line and the safety of other people and neighboring properties. Gas theft can also carry hefty repercussions for those found guilty.
What Is Gas Theft?
Theft is the criminal act of stealing. Gasoline theft is a type of theft where the criminal steals gasoline from another without paying market value for it. Gasoline theft is more common when oil prices rise. It typically occurs in one of two ways: pump and run and siphoning.
Pump and runs occur when the criminal pumps gas at a gas station and leaves without paying. Most gas stations require payment prior to pumping, so this type of gas theft is no longer very common.
Siphoning is a method of stealing gas from someone’s car. The perpetrator siphons off the gas by sticking a hose into another car’s gas tank and sucking the gas out. The thief siphons the gas into their gas can. Gas is usually siphoned from parked cars.
Is Gas Theft Illegal?
Yes, stealing gasoline in all fifty states is illegal theft of personal property. Some states consider it petty theft so long as the amount of gas stolen is less than $400. Penalties for theft depend largely on the value of what is stolen and the facts and circumstances surrounding the crime. The punishment for the crime of theft generally includes criminal fines or jail time.
Is Gasoline Theft the Same as Gasoline Fraud?
No. Gasoline fraud is a white-collar crime in which the criminal acquires gasoline through false representation of fact. For example, a person who uses another person’s credit card to purchase gasoline commits gasoline fraud.
Fraud requires the thief to intend to deceive someone using misrepresentation of fact, whereas gas theft is the simple act of stealing regardless of intent to deceive another.
How Can Someone be Found Guilty of Gas Theft?
For a criminal to be found guilty of gas theft, three elements must be proven:
- The defendant knowingly took the gasoline;
- The gasoline belonged to another person or entity (such as a gas station); and,
- The defendant intended to deprive the owner of its use.
What Kind of Crime is Gas Theft?
Gas theft can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the jurisdiction and facts of the case. For example, if the gas is valued at more than $400, it could be a felony. If the theft is minimal, then a misdemeanor charge may result.
Is Gasoline Stolen from Pipelines?
Yes. Oil and gasoline are stolen by illegal taps in petroleum pipelines. Billions of dollars worth of oil and gasoline are stolen every year. The petroleum industry in Nigeria, the Nembe Creek Trunk Line, the Ceyhan-Kirikkale Oil Pipeline, and the entire petroleum industry in Mexico is commonly targeted by oil and gasoline thieves.
Organized crime and local criminals are typically highly involved. Illegal taps in petroleum pipelines have caused the following leaks and explosions:
- The 2006 Abule Egba pipeline explosion
- The 2006 Atlas Creek pipeline explosion
- The 2019 Tlahuelilpan pipeline explosion
- The 2010 South Kivu tank truck explosion
Not only is natural gas theft illegal, but it is also a dangerous safety risk. Natural gas companies may prosecute any persons liable for or benefit from unauthorized natural gas theft. In addition to potential criminal prosecution, natural gas thieves may face the following penalties:
- The cost of the estimated stolen natural gas
- The cost to repair damaged gas facilities
- Criminal charges, including any felony charges
- Denial of future services
How Do I Protect My Vehicle from Gas Theft?
You can take various steps to prevent thieves from siphoning out your vehicle’s gas. Thieves may target the gasoline from your vehicle, especially when gas prices rise. As the price of gas rises, so do the number of gas-related theft incidents. Here are ways to help protect your vehicle and your wallet from thieves:
- Park in well-lit, well-traveled locations
- Park in your garage or driveway whenever possible. If you have to park on the street, do so underneath a street light
- Avoid parking in public places for long periods of time. For example, ask a friend or neighbor for a ride to the airport rather than leaving your car in the airport parking lot.
- Park your vehicle so that the fuel door is facing the main road
- Install video surveillance for your home or business
- Consider installing a locking gas cap, even if our fuel door has a lock on it. Locking gas caps typically cost anywhere from $5 to $25 at an auto parts store.
- Call 911 if you see suspicious behavior, such as someone putting a siphon into a gas tank or acting suspiciously around several parked cars.
What is Meter Tampering?
When a gas meter can’t track gas usage, the utility company cannot charge the correct amount of money for utility bills. This potentially means that other people will pay higher costs to make up for the amount of money lost through the actions of those who tamper with gas meters.
Aside from the financial implications of meter tampering, there are serious dangers associated with the methods of gas meter tampering. When gas meters are tampered with, there is an increased risk of a gas leak, potentially leading to a fire or an explosion. If you smell gas and can’t identify the source, it is vital to report it.
If you’re renting a property or just moved in, you may be living on a property where gas theft occurs. Check your gas meter when you move in to make sure you’re staying safe. If you have any doubts, contact your gas supplier.
How Can I Tell if Someone is Siphoning My Gas?
It may be difficult to tell if someone has siphoned your gas. The best way to find out is to keep track of your fuel level before you exit your car and make sure the level hasn’t changed when you return. If you have a locking gas cap, lock for scratches or damage where thieves may have attempted to steal your gas.
How Do I Report Gasoline Theft?
If you’ve witnessed a gasoline theft, call the police. Pumping gas without paying is a crime. Get a detailed description of the color, make, and model of the car, as well as a description of the driver and anyone else in the car. Do not leave the store.
As always, prioritize your personal safety first. Do not attempt to physically stop, detain, or chase a person. When the police arrive, provide a detailed description of what happened during the incident and the license plate number of the vehicle, if you remember it.
Should I Contact an Attorney?
If you have been accused of a crime, you should speak with a lawyer immediately. A skilled criminal defense attorney will be able to advise you of your rights, help you with your defense, and advise you as to what options may be available to you.