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Thefts at the Pump Continue to Rise With Gas Prices

SPOKANE, Wash. -- The rising price of gasoline has created a mini-crime wave at a number of gas stations in Washington, as clerks report more motorists filling their tanks and driving away without paying, reported the Associated Press.

At the Holiday gas station in suburban Spokane, Wash., manager Brian Tabert said drive-offs have increased recently from three per month to three per week.

Jim Larson has noticed a 20 percent jump in people stealing fuel at his Exxon Food Mart in north Spokane.

While there are no statistics to prove that fill-and-flees are on the rise, Tim Hamilton of the Automotive United Trade Organization (AUTO) in Olympia, Wash., said owners of the 500 independent gas stations in the group are filing more complaints about drive-offs.

The thieves tend to be people who are out of gas and money, and need fuel to get to work, or people who are angry at oil companies and trying to punish them, Hamilton said.
"All they are doing is smacking the independent retailer, who is hurting at this moment too."

Washington has the fourth-highest gasoline prices in the nation, averaging $2.30 per gallon for unleaded regular, according to AAA. A motorist who drives away without paying for $60 in gas can wipe out all the profit from 1,000 gallons of sales, Hamilton said.

"This is one of the reasons why a couple of years ago we passed a law in Washington that takes away your license if you try to steal gas," Hamilton said. Washington is one of 25 states with such a law.

One solution to reduce drive-offs is to require consumers to pay at the pump with credit cards, or to come in the station to prepay for gas, Hamilton said. But paying at the pump means many customers won't come into the store to buy high-profit items, and customers forced to prepay often consider it a big inconvenience and become irritated, he said.
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