Alarming crime statistics reveal that fuel theft from service station “drive-offs” has risen 150 percent in Queensland over the last two years.
In fact, drive-offs have also risen by varying amounts in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.
But according to a News Limited report, it’s Queensland’s south-east where the crime is spiralling out of control.
Drive-off crimes in Queensland are expected to reach 15,000 state-wide this financial year, compared to 11,800 in 2011-12 and 6,000 in 2010-11.
To combat rising fuel offences, Australian state governments, police, service station operators and fuel companies have implemented or are considering a range of solutions.
Among the solutions are pre-pay policies, funding universities to design more “crime-proof” technology, and forcing customers to look at CCTV cameras before authorising bowsers.
Twenty service stations in south-east Queensland have been trialling the CCTV solution since March, and early results appear positive.
Elsewhere in Australia, NSW has seen a 76 percent increase in drive-offs, when comparing its worst month - October 2012 - to the same month in 2010.
South Australian figures have been creeping up, with a five percent rise in 2011-12 compared to 2010-11, and just a four per cent rise compared to 2009-10. Despite the small changes, fuel theft in South Australia is at an all-time high.
The ACT is expecting a 50 percent increase in drive-offs for 2012-13 compared to last year, although 2010-11 was actually worse than 2011-12.
Victoria has seen drive-offs spike by 37 percent over the last two years, but the worst year for Victoria so far was 2005-06. No figures are available for Tasmania, Western Australia or the Northern Territory.
Service Station Association’s Colin Long believed that the increase in drive-offs was a reaction to tough economic times, with more people willing to take a chance rather than paying for fuel.
"It's a brazen thing,'' Mr Long told News Ltd. "People will try it if they are desperate, for instance if they are out of work, and they are getting away with it.''
Service stations are reportedly keen to avoid a prepaid policy, believing that it reduces in-store purchases and may in fact, create upward pressure on fuel prices.
Stolen number-plates are often used in drive-off crimes, and tamper-resistant screws have been distributed for free during community awareness campaigns in several areas of NSW in an effort to reduce number-plate theft.
But it appears number-plate recognition cameras at service stations could be the way of the future.
The cameras can recognise repeat offenders or stolen plates upon entry and therefore refuse service.
The number-plate recognition system can also issue invoices by mail to vehicle operators when their vehicle drives-off without paying, similar to electronic tolling used on motorways.