The number of fuel thefts from filling stations in Britain has soared, new figures suggest.
Data obtained by the RAC Foundation indicate that forecourt owners attempted to trace offenders over 39,563 incidents between July and September.
That is up 77% from 22,335 during the same period last year, and represents more than a fourfold increase on the total of 8,558 in those three months during 2019.
The RAC Foundation said the rise could be due to “systematic criminal activity”.
The figures relate to the number of requests made to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for vehicle keeper data in relation to fuel theft.
Most of the incidents are likely to relate to drive-offs – also known as bilking – where someone fills up their vehicle with no intention of paying, and then leaves.
The British Oil Security Syndicate – which campaigns to reduce crime on forecourts – estimates the practice costs filling stations an average of £10,500 each per year.
The maximum penalty for drivers convicted of making off without payment, an offence under the Theft Act 1978, is two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.
RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding said: “Among all the recent media attention given to the epidemic of shoplifting, it should probably come as no surprise to find that the theft of petrol and diesel from forecourts looks to be a big and growing problem, and these figures might only hint at a much bigger issue.
“While it may be that the cost-of-living crisis is tempting some people to risk driving off without paying, the real headache for fuel suppliers is if this is a sign of more systematic criminal activity.
“The message to anyone tempted to bilk the service station must be ‘Don’t fill up if you can’t pay up’ because getting caught is a real possibility, and financial losses to companies ultimately lead to higher prices for us all.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub