Primhill service centre in Primrose has been hit by petrol thiefs several times that management have decided to introduce an upfront payment system before putting petrol in clients car. Picture:Paballo Thekiso


Johannesburg - CCTV footage shows a white Toyota Venza driving in to the Primrose Hill Service centre.

The driver stops at petrol pump number six and instructs the attendant to fill up his car.

Once filled, the driver starts his car and speeds away without paying the petrol attendant.

The attendant tries chasing after the vehicle, but by then the car is long gone.

This is the fourth time in the past month that the garage has fallen victim to petrol theft.

Over the past few weeks petrol station owners around the country have reported incidents where motorists refuel their vehicles and drive off without paying.

Drive-offs, at “epidemic levels” in the UK and Australia, have spiked in South Africa after more fuel price hikes this year.

Drivers are now paying R13.96 a litre for petrol, a record price in South Africa.

Fed-up with losing out on thousands of rands, management at the Primrose petrol station on the East Rand have implemented a new rule where drivers have to pay before refuelling.

“It’s the only way to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” said manager Annetjie Brits.

“We have lost thousands of rands because of these criminals and we just won’t let it happen again.”

The petrol station now has billboards all around its premises which inform drivers who are refuelling their cars that payment is required up front.

“I made up those boards myself and trained my staff to ask for the payment up front before refuelling takes place,” said Brits. “Many customers don’t like it and drive off, but we would rather be safe than sorry.”

Brits said the garage had lost around R4 000 in one weekend due to petrol thieves.

“We have caught them on CCTV and managed to track down two drivers, which is good.”

“However some drivers come with false number plates so it is difficult to trace them and we end up losing the money.”

Brits said that aside from those driving off without paying, many drivers also paid with counterfeit notes.

“We have lost a fair amount due to counterfeit notes, but now I have trained my staff to tell the difference between counterfeit notes and real ones.”

Staff at the Primrose Hill Service centre said that since the new rules were implemented, they had been verbally abused by customers.

“We get sworn at and told nonsense when we ask for payment up front,” said Herman Motsoeneng, a petrol attendant at the station.

“I used to enjoy my job but now it has become very tough because we get abuse from customers.”

Motsoeneng’s colleague Patricia fell victim to a petrol thief a few weeks ago. Because she failed to ask for payment up front, management said the money lost would come out of her salary.

“I didn’t want to ask for the money up front because I get shouted at and so I trusted the customer,” she said.

“Now I have to pay it out of my own pocket and I don’t earn much. Its very tough because I have kids and can’t afford to lose any money.”

Patricia said it was not only customers with old scrappy cars who were stealing petrol. Those with fancy cars did it too. “We have had customers driving BMW’s and Mercedes Benzes who have driven off without paying.”

Management at a Shell garage in Mayfair in Joburg said they, too, had fallen victim to petrol thieves a number of times.

“We have lost a lot of money due to people driving off without paying,” said a senior manager at the garage.

“We report it to the police but we don’t always recover our money.”

The Shell garage in Mayfair has, however, refused to ask customers for money up front.

“The customers find it insulting and we can easily lose customers so we will not be asking for payment up front.”

“Right now we need to sell every litre of petrol possible so there’s no way we can lose any customers.” A Caltex garage in Houghton said it would also not be asking customers to pay up front.

“In upmarket areas like these we generally don’t have a problem with drivers running off without paying,” said a manager at the Caltex garage, “so there’s no need for us to change our payment policy.”

The Fuel Retailers Association (FRA) said petrol theft had become a national problem.

“This phenomenon has definitely been on the increase and tends to work on targeted areas that change all the time, I guess not to draw attention,” said CEO Reggie Sibiya.

“Based on the informal reports we get from our members, I can safely say the incidences have doubled over the past 18 months.”

The FRA believes the only way to solve petrol theft is to ask for payment in advance.

“There is no law that says customers cannot pay before receiving their products,” said Sibiya.

“Because of these increasing incidences, some countries overseas have developed a technology that requires swiping the customer’s card first and only after confirmation of the transaction does the pump allow dispensing of fuel.”

l The price of all grades of petrol will drop by 15 cents a litre on Wednesday, the energy department said yesterday.

Diesel would decrease by 29.78 cents a litre, illuminating paraffin by 25 cents, and LP gas by four cents.

“The decrease in the price of illuminating paraffin and LPG will benefit households who use these products, as winter approaches,” Energy Minister Ben Martins said.

The price decreases are to take effect on May 7, when South Africa holds its fifth general election.


How it happens

According to the Fuel Retailers’ Association, petrol theft occurs in a number of different ways:

* Filling up and when it is time to pay the motorists drives off. This is a planned theft.

* Using a cloned card (again planned theft). This is happening more frequently. A cloned card customer does not necessarily drive off but the payment is from someone else’s account with cloned information. Later, when the real customer picks up that the card was used to purchase and brings evidence that they were never at that filling point, the charge is reversed and the retailer loses out.

* Alternatively petrol thieves come with a card that has no funds. They first fill up and then present the card. When the transaction is declined they insist that they have enough funds and end up driving off without paying.

Saturday Star