The UK’s drive-off epidemic

The growing number of fuel thefts from forecourts is adding extra pressure to a sector that is already undergoing an expensive seismic change to keep pace with consumer demand.

The forecourt sector is suffering from a recent spike in drivers leaving the premises without paying for fuel, commonly referred to as drive-offs, predominantly triggered by rising energy prices and the cost of living crisis.

This modern-day scourge is having a massive impact on the profitability of fuel retail operations which are experiencing a typical loss of £50 per drive-off, with each site incurring an average of ten thefts every month.

The British Oil Security Syndicate shows there are now around 1.5 million non-payment incidents per year, resulting in a staggering £100m annual loss for the industry across the UK.

The use of false number plates during drive-offs is commonplace, making tracking down the perpetrators almost impossible. Other prevalent criminal practices include ‘double-tanking’ where thieves carry more than one fuel container to maximise their ill-gotten gains.

In point of fact, fuel theft has now become such big business for crooks, that organised crime gangs are now beginning to emerge, sweeping the country and compounding the misery for energy retailers.

Mitigate the risk

Forecourt retailers need to remain vigilant and consider tightening pump authorisation procedures, as well as briefing staff on the tell-tale signs that indicate a potential drive-off.

Typical warning signals of a drive-off

  • The driver is still at the wheel and the passenger is filling up;
  • Open doors or open boot to hide number plate;
  • Number plates obscured or appear altered;
  • Lights of the vehicle still switched on;
  • Engine still running;
  • Vehicle parked facing away from the kiosk towards an exit;
  • Customer trying to hide behind their own or another vehicle when filling up;
  • Motorcyclists wearing a helmet during refuelling.
Pay at pump

Stop the rot

A surefire way to eradicate drive-offs is for retailers to take pre-payment at the pump before the fuel is dispensed. This radical but extremely effective step may involve retrofitting pre-pay devices to each dispenser, a method that has already been widely adopted in many European countries.

However, apart from the immediate financial impact of upgrading the pumps, many retailers are reluctant to implement pre-payment for fear of lost sales of high-profit-margin drinks and snacks from their convenience stores, which is a core part of their business. To overcome this mindset, many retailers are analysing the numbers in terms of site locations and footfall levels, and reaching the conclusion that preventing fraud is preferable to trying to recoup the loss.

Alternatively, those taking a more positive standpoint claim that pre-payment of fuel at the pump not only prevents drive-offs but eases the queues in the store, allowing genuine grocery shoppers more time and space to fill their baskets

TSG is here to help

TSG has over 30 years of experience in the supply and installation of retail solutions for fuel sites across the UK. With its extensive portfolio of products, TSG can satisfy the needs of any size of operation, from a single independently owned business to a national multi-site network.

TSG specialises in secure payment solutions to suit any site layout or environment. For retailers wishing to prevent drive-offs by installing pre-payment facilities on the forecourt, TSG provides help and advice to establish the best possible solution to suit the business’ needs.

TSG can also support site owners looking to step up security measures by delivering high-specification closed-circuit television cameras, to monitor all aspects of the forecourt and convenience store and help prevent criminal activity.

Tokheim Crypto VGA™

The Tokheim Crypto VGA™ is the most advanced and secure dispenser integrated terminal (DIT) in the energy retail sector. The Crypto VGA™ is fully certified per the latest PCI DSS approvals. It accepts credit, debit and fuel cards along with the latest technologies, such as contactless and smartphones.

Aside from an easy transaction process and modern payment methods, the Crypto VGA offers anti-fraud protection, with its integrated privacy shield plus advanced anti-tamper and anti-skimming measures, to help counter fraud attempts.

The DIT is available as either a single or double-sided solution and integrates seamlessly into the Tokheim Quantium™, Wayne Helix™ and third-party dispensers.


Security counts
Tokheim EYE Security Solution

Surveillance cameras are fast becoming today’s most cost-effective and reliable answer to crime prevention. One such option is the Tokheim EYETM Security Solution from TSG UK. This award-winning closed-circuit television (CCTV) solution was designed specifically for forecourts and has proved to be an excellent deterrent to criminals.

Tokheim EYE is an advanced high-definition (HD) camera surveillance system, activated by the slightest of movements on the forecourt, that is able to capture and store images of a suspected crime. The footage can be easily retrieved and viewed by site owners and authorised personnel, retrospectively or live, on any smart device.

Tokheim EYE Group

The cameras are interfaced with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) software and point-of-sale equipment both at the pumps and within the kiosk. This provides a range of valuable information linked to the camera recordings. Real-time and post-event data includes details such as the pump number, receipt, staff member involved, time/date and other useful transaction inputs.

To conclude, whilst drive-offs are a difficult challenge to manage, it is possible to significantly reduce their impact by implementing equipment upgrades and making changes to security processes, safeguarding fuel retailers and their customers.

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