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Fuel Theft

CAMBRIDGE, Ont.- On March 17, an employee interrupted thieves in the act of stealing 30,000 litres of diesel fuel from Penske Truck Rentals in Cambridge, Ont. They abandoned a cube van outfitted with ...


COSTLY PROBLEM: With diesel reaching unprecedented heights last summer, fuel theft has become a serious problem. And it hasn't subsided since.
COSTLY PROBLEM: With diesel reaching unprecedented heights last summer, fuel theft has become a serious problem. And it hasn't subsided since.

CAMBRIDGE, Ont.-On March 17, an employee interrupted thieves in the act of stealing 30,000 litres of diesel fuel from Penske Truck Rentals in Cambridge, Ont. They abandoned a cube van outfitted with plastic tanks, electric pump and generator, according to staff sergeant Frank Sinko, Kitchener Detective Office of the Waterloo Regional Police.

Earlier thefts in the area netted hauls such as 12,000, 20,000 and 34,000 litres of diesel, and $18,000, $27,000 and $50,000 worth of diesel.

“In the last few months we are seeing large-scale theft from underground storage containers,” Sinko says. “It is an organized, well-planned criminal activity. We are seeing a trend between here and the Greater Toronto Area.”

As for the wisdom that lower fuel prices have rendered fuel theft unattractive, Sinko says, “We thought we might see that, but the profit margins are so staggering.”

In Edmonton and surroundings there were hundreds of incidents last year, the majority of them at cardlocks, says detective Rob Bilawey, of the Edmonton Police Services southeast division. “These guys find one card that works, they get storage containers and they pump ’til the cards run dry or they run out of storage containers.”

Last July the B. C. Forest Safety Council issued an alert that thieves were “showing up” at overnight truck stops, long-term parking lots, work sites where there was unattended equipment and fuel storage tanks.

When reports of fuel thefts from carriers belonging to the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association (APTA) started trickling in, APTA e-mailed members a heads-up.

“We have seen thefts anywhere from $16,000 to $30,000,” said APTA president Peter Nelson last September, adding that there were about a dozen reports of fuel theft, and probably lots more he hadn’t heard about.

APTA members had no desire to discuss their experiences with Truck News.

“The feedback I get is that nobody wants to draw attention to themselves or the steps they are taking to secure their assets. I think there was some embarrassment there. It is a confidence and trust issue,” Nelson reported. “The ones I’ve heard that were in the yards were cases where the trucks were broken into. The trucks were ransacked looking for PIN numbers.”

Corporal Mike Gaudet, with the Kodiak Regional RCMP in Moncton says only,”There were a few incidents in the Moncton area. There is nothing to alert an all-out task force or anything to that effect.”

Information was even scarcer at the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA). “We have heard stories,” said Rebecka Torn, communications director with OTA. “Anecdotally in situations with nothing related to the OTA theft committee, members have mentioned that they have had fuel stolen. That said, I doubt they will want to be quoted in Truck News about it.”

The B. C. Trucking Association (BCTA) said last fall that none of its members had reported any fuel thefts, that the BCTA didn’t report on it and it was not an issue.

However, Claude Robert, chief executive officer of Robert Transport in Boucherville, Que. was raring to talk about the problem.

“Fuel theft is all over the place. The question is, who is it not being stolen from? Sometimes our employees steal it, sometimes someone else. Some drivers sell it, others get it stolen. They do it when the drivers are having lunch, or with the co-operation of the drivers. We catch some. Tankers get stolen big time.”

The vast quantities of fuel being sucked from cardlocks is puzzling. After all, wouldn’t a single transaction big enough to fuel 10 or 20 trucks, or multiple purchases in different areas in one night trigger alarms, the slamming shut of gates, the raising of drawbridges?

“Cardlock thefts are completely preventable,” says Bilawey. “When we interview these (thieves) they invariably tell us that in the cabs they find sticky notes with PINs on the backs of the cards, PINs written on the cards, or find random four-digit numbers, which they try at the cardlocks.”

Some fleets do not set daily purchase limits on their cards, which explains these astounding hauls. Yet, not only can credit limits be set, says Vicky Fontana- Vatcher, manager of fleet fuels with Suncor (while not admitting to any thefts from Suncor cardlocks), “Customers can access the Suncor card management system to change PIN numbers, pick and choose which locations drivers can fuel at.”

Chevron’s Web site informs readers, “You can customize each card with purchase restrictions such as: volume limits, daily transaction limits, and time of day and day of week limits.”

“What a lot of carriers have done is put a daily limit on their fuel cards so you can’t rack up these kinds of numbers. The ideas of limits is starting to come into the mainstream,” Nelson reports. One carrier contact, requesting anonymity, says, “Carriers have tightened security of the fuel cards, PINs, daily limits on cards, (started) programs to ensure fuel consumed per truck (company or owner/operator) is legit, trucks remain locked at all times, fuel caps have locks and yards with fuel storage are secure.”

“I don’t think you can put more than 500 litres a day on our cards. It would be idiotic to put an open limit on a card,” Robert admonishes.

It is a simple matter for fleets with maintenance programs that monitor fuel mileage at the truck level to look for trucks with unusual fuel consumption. This could uncover drivers selling fuel on the side.

Robert says, “We keep telling our drivers of the precautions they need to take. Make sure that when you stop to sleep, that you stop in a safe area. But some drivers are careless.”

He adds, “We have put devices in our fuel tanks that prevent pumping. We can slow thieves down.”

Fighting diesel theft is about making thieves work harder for their paycheck. “The only thing you can do is slow them down, create problems for them,” Robert says.

Thieves can be foiled other ways: “Some businesses are placing concrete barriers in the access paths after hours. Others, cameras and improvements in gates and fences,” says Sinko. Gaudet has some oft-overlooked advice: “It can only help to get the community involved. We have programs where we encourage people to be informed of the community and area, to be eyes and ears. I know what is normal in my area. Seeing a half-tonne truck at a commercial cardlock – if you don’t know that there is a theft going on, you are not even paying attention.”

Are victims depriving thieves of any big secrets by staying silent?

“I am of the opinion, as would be any police agency (to) give information on the facts of the thefts. Your best defense is a strong offence,” says Gaudet. The Edmonton Police Services agonized over whether the thefts should be made public, Bilawey confides, but he hopes, “At the end of the day we hope we are educating fleets and not thieves.”

Sinko does not equivocate: “Spread the word.”


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