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    QuikTrip Takes Stand Against Drive-Offs

    Experiment with authorization card virtually ends theft at tested locations.

    TULSA, Okla. -- QuikTrip Corp., which loses more than $12 million a year to gasoline theft, is testing a new plan it hopes will put the brakes on drive-offs but spare customer convenience at its 444 stores, reported the Associated Press.

    The privately held gasoline retailer is requiring customers at two Tulsa locations hit hard by drive-offs to use an identification card at the pump before filling up. If the plan works, and so far it has, the Tulsa-based company will implement the program across its chain.

    "Theft of gasoline is absolutely spiraling out of control," QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said. "We as a company are going to find a method to stop it."

    QuikTrip's experiment with the authorization card has virtually ended theft at those locations, Thornbrugh said, and it has competitors long baffled in the battle against thieves awaiting the results.

    "I think it's a novel approach, and we'd be curious to see how that goes," said Jenny Love Meyer, whose father founded Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores Inc., an Oklahoma City-based chain with 163 convenience stores in 25 states.

    Gasoline theft cost the nation's gasoline retailers an estimated $112 million in 2003 out of industry sales of about $221 billion, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores. It's a cost that's passed on to consumers at a rate of about a half-cent to 2 cents per gallon, the industry says. This year's figures are expected to be worse because theft becomes more common as prices at the pump rise, the association says.

    "It's not a conga line of one person after another, but when you service 1,000 customers a day, it can happen pretty quickly," association spokesman Jeff Lenard said. "It happens a couple of times per week per store."

    Under QuikTrip's experiment, which began about a month ago, customers have two payment options. They can pay in advance with a credit card, or, if they wish to pay after pumping, they must insert a QuikTrip identification card into the slot before pumping. That way, QuikTrip either gets paid first, or it knows who's using the pump.

    The approach is not foolproof. Thornbrugh acknowledges that thieves could still use fake identification to get a card or steal one from another customer. Any misused card would be immediately deactivated, he said. "I think that's minute compared to the amount of gasoline theft that's going on," he said.

    QuikTrip's approach to gas theft isn't the only one. Some stores have experimented with cameras positioned to catch license plates of cars speeding away from unpaid pumps. Others have staff occasionally sell pizzas at the pumps to get an extra set of eyes in the field.

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