Scammers Tampering With Pumps To Score Cheap Gas

With the average retail gas price nearing record levels, some less-than-scrupulous people have begun to tinker with gas station pumps to hide the fact that they are stealing thousands of dollars worth of fuel.

It’s not some elaborate hacking of the pump’s electronics that allows the scammers to fill up on the cheap. Instead, they are simply prying open the covers of older machines with a screwdriver and tampering with a cog, effectively allowing the gas to flow without being metered.

“For five dollars, he’s getting 20 to 25 dollars worth of gas,” one Atlanta-area gas station owner tells Channel 2 Action News. He claims to have lost $12,000 in a single day at one location. After all, every person who pulls up to that damaged pump is paying pennies on the dollar to fill up their tank — at least until someone figures out the machine has been rigged.

The owner explains that it can be very difficult to notice the problem until after people have driven off with a lot of gratis gasoline. He and other owners with the older pumps have begun installing braces in an effort to prevent screwdriver-wielding gas thieves.

Thieves tamper with pumps to steal gas []


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  1. Cat says:

    If this somehow hurt the people that are responsible for artificially manipulating gas prices, it would be awesome.

    But it doesn’t, and it isn’t.

    • Difdi says:

      If by artificial you mean free market forces, then yeah, sure.

      • aphex732 says:

        No, I think he’s referencing underregulated commodities trading.

      • MutantMonkey says:

        He is referring to speculators that get paid to “track” effects that “may” effect prices down the road. Quotes for bullshit.

    • CentralScrutinizer says:

      2 reasons why petroleum products are so expensive:

      1. The human race burns approximately 80 million barrels of oil per day, and
      2. The earth is not producing 80 million new barrels of oil per day.

      Oil is a dwindling, non-renewable resource. The cost of the incremental barrel is what sets the price. Since so much of the easy-to-get oil has already been burnt, the incremental barrel is likely to be a hard-to-get (and expensive-to-get) barrel, such as from the Alberta tar sands. Sure, it’s not an entirely free market, but market manipulation is a secondary factor, not the primary factor, in expensive oil.

      • longfeltwant says:

        Oil reserves are limited, we believe, but they are not at all dwindling. We pump as much oil today as we ever have, and we could increase pumping if we wanted to. That’s pretty much the opposite of dwindling.

        Oil prices are high because demand is high. That’s pretty much it.

        • Blueskylaw says:

          Gas prices are up 20% this year. Does this mean demand went up 20% in the same time frame?

          Supply and demand ultimately decide the long term trends of gas prices but you are supremely naive if you think that supply and demand are the primary reasons for large price movements over short periods of time rather than commodity speculation and market manipulation.

          • CentralScrutinizer says:

            A 1% increase in demand will cause a 100% increase in price if the elasticity of the demand is 0.01. Price swings out of proportion with demand changes simply means that oil is so important to modern life that, while some conservation will take place when prices are high, for the most part people will pay whatever it takes to get oil. (Just like a heroin addict will do whatever it takes to get a fix.)

        • CentralScrutinizer says:

          Yes, it is dwindling. If nature produced 80 million barrels of new oil per day to replace the 80 million barrels per day humanity extracts from the Earth’s crust, then it would not be dwindling. However, nature is producing approximately 0 million barrels of new oil per day.

          The term “oil production” is very misleading. Oil “producers” don’t “produce” oil. They merely extract oil from the Earth’s crust. Therefore, when you hear the term “oil production”, substitute “oil extraction” to better understand what’s really going on.

          High prices and technological advances are making it feasible to extract harder-to-get oil, but the fact remains that the Earth is not producing any new oil. Humans are just picking higher-hanging fruit from the same non-renewable tree, and if the price falls below a certain threshold (~$90), some non-conventional oils such as tar sands become money losers and are therefore removed from the supply.

      • Jawaka says:

        Yeah but we never hear that prices are increasing because oil is becoming scarce. Its always because of tensions in the middle east, an exploding refinery, rebels across the world, a crazy dictator, crazy weather patterns, Exxon wants more money, etc…

      • shalegac says:

        So because demand will seemingly never go down as reserves continues to fall, gas/oil prices in turn should only continue to rise?

  2. FearTheCowboy says:

    First, hard to feel sorry for anyone in the petroleum industry.

    Second, I betcha it would have been worth $12000 to install either some high-resolution security cameras, or maybe even better pumps that couldn’t be tinkered with a screwdriver.

    • CTrees says:

      “First, hard to feel sorry for anyone in the petroleum industry.”

      The actual gas station owners have surprisingly tiny margins. It’s not hugely profitable, because they get screwed just as hard by the actual oil producers/refiners as everyone else, and the competition is massive and cutthroat. The gas stations are often (usually? always? not entirely sure) franchises, and hurting them is just hurting the owners, not the giant companies.

      • Powerlurker says:

        The only people who make money in the petroleum industry are the people who get the crude out of the ground, and their profits are entirely dependent on their cost of extraction (you make the money by getting your oil out of the ground cheaper than the other guys). Pretty much everyone else in the supply chain operates almost at cost.

    • sirwired says:

      Why would you not feel sorry about a small business owner getting ripped off by thieves?

      Very few gas stations make much money at all on gas. You ever wonder why every gas station has some other money-making operation attached? (Like a quickie-mart, repair shop, cigarette stand, etc.)? It’s because like movie theaters, the main product isn’t the least bit profitable.

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      I would say that gas station owners (most are small businesses) are more in the retail industry with smaller margins than the petroleum industry. Sure they are retailing the end product but they aren’t the ones getting record profits from high oil and gas prices, their wholesale price has gone up too.

      • pythonspam says:

        Gas stations don’t make money when the price goes up, often they are locked in contracts for delivery at set prices. However, when wholesale price starts to drop (due to increased supply or decreased global demand), the retailer may lower the price more slowly to recoup costs from when the price was rising and to make their profits.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

      Why don’t you think critically for a second, and stop buying the propaganda. Do you know why the oil companies make billions of dollars? Because we consume gas and oil is greater and greater quantities. Even if they make 3 cents of profit off a gallon of gas, that translates to millions of dollars. Yet people who make a larger profit margin, in the scale of 1-2,000%, like makers of homeopathic treatments, which are just, at most, sugar water, get a pass.

      • deejmer says:

        How many Americans have to use homeopathic remedies each day to exist in our society though? We pretty much HAVE to buy gas through the way the oil industry has manipulated our auto and energy sectors.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        The world would not collapse in economic chaos if homeopathic treatments disappeared
        off the face of the earth tomorrow. What would happen if gas ceased to exist tomorrow?

        • jkfan87 says:

          So…because the world is too dependent on it, that means the oil companies should take an even SMALLER profit margin than they already do (one of hte lowest profit margins of any major industry, by the way.)

          IT is very simple for anyone whose brain works, which apparently does not include you…even if the oil companies agreed to basicallyh break even and make ZERO profits, it would lower hte price of gas by less than a dime.

          • dyzlexiK says:

            Your argument would be stronger if Exxon Mobel didn’t have the highest profits of any company in the world the past few years.

    • kobresia says:

      Your second point is an excellent one, it never ceases to amaze me how people pinch pennies on something that eventually costs them thousands of dollars because they were too cheap. It’s better to spend money investing in their business infrastructure than just lose money, and $12,000 would go a long way towards upgrading pumps to the newer, more tamper-resistant varieties or even just retrofitting the older ones to more successfully resisting tampering.

      But as to your first point, most gas station owners aren’t out to gouge people. I’d hope the ones mostly affected by the tampering are the opportunists who jacked prices to over $4/gal in the days right after 9/11, long before speculators drove up the price of the raw crude. Socking it to small business owners only makes sure that there is less competition around, which is bad for consumers because the remainder will have a golden opportunity to raise their prices. At the very least, consumers will just have to go farther out of their way to fill-up, wasting more time and gas.

    • Bob from Texas says:

      How about the lowly petroleum engineer? Working 9 to 5, not unlike you, trying to make ends meet. Do you not feel his or her pain? He or she may not have a mortgage payment, but property values, and consequently property taxes aren’t getting any lower in Houston.

  3. Captain Walker says:

    Or they could upgrade to pumps that are resistant to this move?

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

      Shut down the station, get all the fuel lines/tanks tested to be re-certified, buy the new pumps, safely dispose of the old ones(by code), install the new pumps, wait for all the certifications and testing to be done, finally re-open.

      Yeah, not worth being shut down for ~2 weeks to install new pumps.

      • bsh0544 says:

        2 weeks? I’d be surprised to see that happen in 3 months.

        • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

          I was assuming they only have one island, with two “pumps”.

          • kobresia says:

            It’s not that big of a deal, I’ve seen a couple of stations around here upgrade their pumps practically overnight.

            • meltingcube says:

              Indeed. I’ve seen stations only shut down half of the pumps at a time, and only for about a day or two for each instance. It doesn’t take weeks to upgrade the pumps.

    • crispyduck13 says:

      No way, just lock those things up. Upgrading pumps is a huge expense.

    • Cosmo_Kramer says:

      Typical consumerist reader, always blaming the victim.

  4. Hi_Hello says:

    do they have insurance that will cover it?

  5. tacitus59 says:

    I might be wrong, but as I understand it … Stations really don’t make much money on gas and the pain is not being passed along to the distributors (who are notoriously price manipulative) or higher. Plus most stations are not owned by the oil companies.

    • Clyde Barrow says:

      They don’t and it is the same concept as with the movie theatre’s. Both businesses make their sustaining profit on concessions. Little profit comes from movies and gasoline.

    • AllanG54 says:

      Stations make on average 15 cents a gallon no matter what the price is. The rest is paid to the company and taxes.

      • Bob says:

        Not quite, but you are very close.

        When gas prices are high the gas station owners have to pay a percentage for credit card processing. They actually get more than 15 cents/gallon if the gas prices are low. If gas prices are high they are stuck because they can’t pass on the higher credit card fees. Gas sales are cutthroat competitive. Being only 1/2% cheaper than the rest of the gas stations sometime doubles the business. You cannot even pass on an additional 1 cent per gallon at the risk of losing half your customers.

        If gas prices keep increase at this current rate you will see fewer and fewer gas stations open and the ones that are open will be stop-and-go types of places where gas sales are only a part of their revenue.

    • shthar says:

      Actually you couldn’t be more rong.

      The oil companies had a major campaign to buy back their gas stations in the 90s, even opening new gas stations across the street from franchisees who wouldn’t sell.

      The major metropolitan area closest to me had exactly 2 independently owned gas stations by the time I left in 2006.

  6. sufreak says:

    I echo Cat’s statement. This hurts the average joe running a business. Not the big gas companies.

    • ElDiablo says:

      Well, once competition has been run out of business, surely the few remaining stations will charge a reasonable price and/or there will be folks lining up to go into the business and get ripped off. Because thieves are geniuses.

  7. thomwithanh says:

    Full service

  8. ancientone567 says:

    That is one way to save money on insane gas prices. Thank God for ROBIN HOOD! If you don’t want people to steal then make the prices where they should be. 1.50 a gallon.

  9. Tacojelly says:

    That really sucks for the location owners.

    On a somewhat related matter, why is it that we can’t ‘cap’ the price of gas? Oil companies are making record profits, can we stop relying on the free market to guess how much gas will cost 6 months down the line?

  10. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDave‚Ñ¢ says:

    Every gas station I have every worked at had a red container with a view port on one side that allowed you to check the accuracy of the gas pumped. But maybe that’s a NJ thing.

    • Fubish says: I don't know anything about it, but it seems to me... says:

      New Jersey is a ‘full service’ state. You can’t pump your own gas – an attendant has to do it.

    • Traveller says:

      NJ also doesn’t let you pump your own gas.

      if this theft spreads you will see that elsewhere

  11. Sean says:

    If he lost $12,000 in a single day at one location how much would it cost to replace the older pumps with one that does not have that vulnerability?

  12. Hoss says:

    The reporter admits he happen to be pumping gas and sees the station owner making changes to the pump cabinet. So with a camera rolling he asked this one owner why and the owner says the pump was tampered with resulting in stolen gas. So the assumption becomes that this is a common crime happening nationally because of gas prices?

    Maybe so — who knows — but why didn’t the reporter interview police to see if it’s happened more than once or at least do a Google to see if it’s been reported in other areas? Lazy and irresponsible.

  13. Hoss says:

    I do admit though — it is a nice How-to video. Seems you just need to jam the cog that moves the pump register and the pump cabinet opens without much force

  14. evilpete says:

    Art you telling me he gas station did not have *any* security cams

  15. MikeVx says:

    The really sad part of this is that no one told the station staff when the pump mis-delivered so low. A number of people had to realize something was wrong. I don’t always watch the pump run, but as I usually wait until I am near empty to fill up, I’d notice the wildly out-of-line final number on the receipt (I *ALWAYS* get a receipt) and tell the cashier that something was up.

    • regis-s says:

      That’s the other side of the coin. How many “honest” people filled their tanks and realized something must be wrong but didn’t say anything?

      A lot of them probably made a point of going back to the same pump and were pissed when they were charged the proper price.

  16. dush says:

    Everyone wants to drill baby drill but the US is net exporter of crude oil.
    The arguements are all wrong. We need to refine baby refine.

  17. FrugalFreak says:

    Increase the sound on video!

  18. central_ny_dude says:

    This would never happen in our area. All our pumps are cash pay inside first, and charge a lot more to use a credit card (well, technically discount for the cash paying customer). First person to try and pump gas after pre-paying for $40 worth of gas would raise suspicion when his 16 gallon tank is full after just $8. Plus, anyone that doesn’t report this to the station attendant or manager is guilty of theft. Not to mention morally wrong. If you think you are just getting back at big oil, you have no idea how the typical convenience store is run, or makes any money.

  19. cunnij says:

    could we a get a little more detailed explanation on ‘how’ to do this; you know, just so I can look for other people doing it.