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    High Pump Prices Leading to Increased Drive-Offs

    Some c-store owners maintain the honor system, while others turn to technology, pre-payment.

    DES MOINES, Iowa -- As the price for premium gasoline increases to near $4 a gallon, so do reports of gasoline thefts, the Des Moines Register reported.

    "We have noticed an increase in gas drive-offs since gas prices have gone up. However, the number of drive-offs is not as high as it's been in the past," said Sgt. Chris Scott of the Des Moines Police Department.

    Thefts most frequently occur when gas prices take a significant leap in a short period, he said.

    In the state of Iowa, where people still leave their houses unlocked and keys in their cars, convenience store owners are reluctant to require customers to pay in advance for gasoline. An honor system still exists in Iowa, according to the state’s c-store owners.

    But with prices for regular gasoline in Iowa creeping north of $3.75 per gallon this week and drive-offs increasing, requiring pre-payment makes sense, said police officials.

    Since 2005, QuikTrip Corp. has been using a security system in its Des Moines-area stores, which it said has eliminated most gas thefts. Customers can have their driver's licenses scanned and receive a PumpStart card that activates the pumps. Those customers can fill up their tanks and then enter the store to pay and purchase other items, QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh told the newspaper.

    Would-be thieves are discouraged from stealing because their only options are to pay first or use a PumpStart card, which has on file all of the information found on a driver's license.

    Before PumpStart was implemented, QuikTrip lost about $12 million annually to gasoline thefts, Thornbrugh noted.

    The majority of convenience stores now have cameras that can catch the license plates of a motorist trying to steal gas, said Clive Police Chief Robert Cox. "You'll see people get creative, trying to hide their license plate number, that sort of thing," he said.

    Still, some c-store owners, such as Kum & Go L.C., have vowed to continue allowing customers to pay after they pump.

    "At Kum & Go, we firmly believe people are trustworthy," said Catherine Huggins, spokeswoman for the company, which has no pre-pay policy.

    But that trust comes at a cost, the newspaper stated.

    On March 20, a motorist left at a "high rate of speed" with $19.85 in unpaid fuel from the Kum & Go at 15600 Hickman Road in Clive, according to a police report.

    When a Clive police officer pulled over the driver, the driver said he forgot to pay.

    Nationwide, police frequently hear about forgetfulness in these types of cases, said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for NACS, the Association for Convenience & Petroleum Retailing.

    "The level of forgetfulness is directly related to the price of gas. It seems more than coincidence that it increases when prices increase," Lenard said.


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