June 5, 2007
As prices at the pump go up, so does the number of crimes of people trying to fill up for free, and now these crimes are getting more advanced.
"We've had a few where license plate tags were called in and they come back to the wrong vehicle. And we've had people who've actually taken the whole tag off," recalled Beverly Adams, a supervisor at a Charlottesville Shell station.
Adams says the new scheme targeting stations like her's involves people stealing license plates, slapping them on their cars, filling up, and then driving off without paying.
The crime is tricking security cameras, but not tricking police.
"They're (clerks) are turning these tags in and we are finding out they have either been stolen or have different information on them with the wrong stickers," said Sgt. Mike Wagner of Albemarle County Police.
Even though police are not tricked by the crime, they are frustrated by it. With just pictures of the tags alone, there is not much they can do to track down the thief, so they are asking for people's help.
They urge drivers to report missing tags and to be aware of their surroundings while filling up.
"Most times, when a clerk says, 'Hey that person just drove off with gas', there may be a customer who has seen that person, as well as the clerk, who are able to give a physical description," said Sgt. Wagner. "So, then, we may be able to get a pattern just by physical descriptions."
Currently, police are now looking into patterns in these descriptions and the stations that are hit.
In the meantime, Beverly is doing what she can to help them.
And then some.
"We are doing our part, as far as pictures, putting them up in the store, and it frightens them," explained Adams of the security photos up in her store. "Word gets back to them, 'Hey, your picture's in the store, you need to go back and pay' and it frightens them. And we've had times when people have come back and paid."