petrol forecourt crime - making sure crime doesn't pay

how can you make sure that you're not a victim of petrol forecourt crime. here are a few suggestions

Petrol station crime in the UK costs in excess of £50 million a year and could lead to an increase in the cost of fuel to motorists.

The crime wave sweeping the country's forecourts includes credit card fraud, drive-offs (people driving away without paying for fuel), criminal damage, robberies, assaults and shoplifting.

Petrol stations have now replaced corner shops as a major community resource in many areas of the UK, combining the services of the corner shop, bank, takeaway cafe and car wash facility. But their popularity has also led to increased levels of crime, as they have become a favourite target for crooks.

A survey recently revealed that petrol stations are the third highest in the league table for robberies in the UK's retail trade, with the oil industry losing over £50 million a year as a result. It's a trend which is obviously costing the oil industry a large amount of money, but, ultimately, those costs have to be passed on to someone. That someone will undoubtedly be the motorist filling up with fuel. There are, however, measures that the ordinary driver can take to help minimize opportunities for the criminal.

* Always lock the car when you leave it at the pump to pay for fuel - many vehicles have been driven off as the unsuspecting owner browses the confectionery.

* Do not leave young children in an unattended vehicle while you are in the shop. An horrific case in Scotland recently highlighted the dangers. A sleeping child who remained in a car while her parents paid for petrol was abducted as thieves made off with the vehicle. The child was dropped off unharmed at a hospital some time later.

* Always take the car key with you. Car-jackers may seize the opportunity to drive away a vehicle with the ignition key still in it even if there are other passengers.

* Never leave any valuables on display while you pay. Ensure that they are locked in the boot or glove box. Briefcases, laptops, mobile phones and shopping bags are all open invitations to the opportunist thief, even if you are only away from the car for minutes.

* Owners of hatchbacks or estates with no goods in the back may be advised to leave covers open, so potential thieves know that there is nothing to take.

* Don't assume that your vehicle will not be broken into for an item of low value. The prevalence of drug addicts looking for ways to finance their next fix has led to cars being broken into for loose change in the cup holder, a coat on the back seat or the radio. In some areas, motorists are now seen to display signs reading "No change or stereo carried in this car" to avoid break-ins.

* One of the most vulnerable targets is the motorist who withdraws money from the fore-court cash machine. If you are going to do this, especially during the hours of darkness and while alone, ensure that you park in a well-lit area in the sight of the CCTV camera, lock the vehicle and put away both the cash and card quickly and unobtrusively once you have completed the transaction. Have the car keys ready to rapidly get into the car and check the rear before you re-enter.

* If you have the choice, avoid the outer pumps nearest the road - these are sometimes blind spots for CCTV cameras. Nationally, the petrol retailing industry is looking at a raft of measures to cut back on crime, but their difficulty is in ensuring that excessive security devices do not alienate customers. Ideas being considered include the supermarket format of filling up and then paying at a separate booth, largely eliminating the problem of drive-offs, more CCTV coverage, the American and Australian system of pre-paying for fuel or a return to old fashion assisted service.