Thieves across the United States are stealing gas, either by physically taking gas from pumps and other vehicles or by hacking gas retailers’ networks, as fuel prices hit record highs.
And while the gas thieves might think they’re doing drivers a favor by reselling stolen gas at a discount, experts say gas thieves aren’t exactly sticking it to the man the way they think they are.
“There is no Robin Hood in this,” Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), told Fox News Digital. “These are thieves. They are not robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. The gas station owner is the least responsible for high prices. The cost of theft gets passed on in higher prices, and when people are driving around with unsecured stolen fuel, it is a concern to anybody.”
Terry Kim Air Force veteran co-founder of NGT Academy, a network engineering and cybersecurity training academy, similarly said, “It’s really sad because who’s really losing out in these types of situations is the gas station owner.”
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“You can literally put them completely out of business [into] bankruptcy by doing this kind of stuff. Even though stealing oil might be helping people or getting free gas, this is really a bad thing for these gas station owners,” he said.
In Virginia Beach earlier this month, police observed “numerous vehicles” using devices to pump gas from a Citgo station that was closed at the time.
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“During the officers’ preliminary investigation, it was determined that devices were being used to illegally access gas pumps. Individuals were then selling the gasoline at a discounted rate through a phone application and had advertised the operation on social media. It was determined that thousands of dollars worth of gasoline was stolen from the business over several days,” the Virginia Beach Police Department said in a June 14 press release.
To protect themselves from cyberattacks, fuel retailers should make sure their networks are up-to-date and properly secured so that their technology infrastructure has no vulnerabilities, or weaknesses allowing hackers to infiltrate their networks and steal or change information. Stores and franchises should also train their employees Kim and NGT Academy co-founder Jacob Hess said.
Physical gas thefts that do not involve cyberattacks are another issue.
Lenard said that about 25% of gas retailers have experienced an increase in gas theft compared to last year, citing data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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Thieves are “getting access to the pump and…either somehow overriding the system, whether physically or electronically, and resetting prices to be extremely low, or keeping that the transaction open where multiple people can go through the same transaction,” Lenard explained.
“That is one trend. The other trend is someone who is retrofitting or rejiggering a flat-panel van or some type of vehicle, then parking over the underground storage tank and pulling gas out of the underground storage tank and then reselling,” he explained. “And that is probably the most common right now.”
In Salt Lake City, Utah, security camera footage captured a thief stealing gas from a truck parked outside Summit Fire and Protection, a fire safety and protection company, before his body catches fire.
Thieves had already stolen the parked truck’s catalytic converter and gas before another thief attempted to steal more gas from the vehicle on June 12, according to KSLV-TV.
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“The guy tried to siphon gas out of it and he wasn’t getting the siphon to work. So he decided to drill the gas tank, and that’s when he caught on fire,” branch manager Travis Mills told the outlet, adding that “it’s not worth the $5 that he would have saved for the injury that the guy sustained.”
The Las Vegas Police Department, too, is warning of physical gas thefts.
“These thieves are very sophisticated. They will take a truck that looks just like a normal truck, like a freeway service truck, and there is intricate piping inside them,” Lt. Jeff Swanbeck with the Las Vegas Police Department’s Financial Crimes Section told KVVU. “They will open up the gas pump itself, and there is a series of gears inside there, and they are smart enough to figure out how to manipulate the gears.”
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Lenard explained how thieves put themselves in danger when they attempt to physically steal gas.
“First off, it’s dangerous to the thieves because fuel burns on vapor, it doesn’t burn on liquid. … The fumes are volatile,” he said. “Gas stations have sophisticated vapor recovery systems. Thieves do not. There are certain issues where … it’s not dangerous at the gas station for anybody but the thieves who are siphoning fuel. … They’re basically a moving bomb.”
Fuel retailers should look out for people who are “lingering outside” or “parking over your underground storage tank” for extended periods of time.
The national average gas price was $4.91 per gallon over the weekend, with some western and northeastern states seeing prices above $5 and $6 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). In California, the average was $6.33 on Saturday.
Under Biden, gas prices shot up 5 cents overnight and have left Americans paying an average $1.82 more than they were just a year ago, when the price was $3.05, per the AAA.
The U.S. produced 12 million barrels of crude oil per day during the week ending June 10, according to the latest data from the Energy Information Administration. By comparison, domestic drillers produced 13.1 million barrels a day in March 2020.
Fox News’ Thomas Catenacci and Houston Keene contributed to this report.
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