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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pain at the pump

Note: This post was originally published on August 13, 2013 and has been rewritten and updated with new information.
"Sliders" is the term given to criminals stealing purses and other valuables from cars at gas pumps. While women are pumping gas, the criminal sneaks up on the opposite side of the car, opens the door, and grabs the purse, or they go in through an open window. Sliding gained popularity a few years ago and is still a technique used today. Another method of “gas pump” theft is one person distracts the victim while a partner steals the item. Either way, customers at gas pumps need to be alert and aware of their surroundings.

How do you pump gas?

Most people pull their car up to the pump with the tank opening nearest the pump. They are then tucked in between the six or seven-foot high pump and their car while filling up or even worse a large SUV or truck. People pumping gas are ripe for theft. They either have their wallet/purse and keys on them or leave the keys in the car, and/or their purse in the unlocked car.
Gas stations have become hawking grounds for car products. Salesmen are allowed to set up in parking lots and sell their wares. When customers are focused on operating the gas pump, with field of vision shielded, is not the time to try to sell them something. Blame it on cynicism or all of the cons and scams that have been perpetrated throughout history.
One point of curiosity is not as much the people who approach you while pumping gas, but that they don’t understand how vulnerable a person is at that moment and yet they want to talk to you. It is sad that the world has come to this, but people have to be on their toes at all times to protect themselves. Some vendors are a little more enthusiastic than others and will go pump to pump asking to clean your windows, shine your car, or demonstrate whatever they are selling. When you tell them you’re not interested or stop them from approaching, they get offended. Apologies for being curt, but we’re just trying to be safe. Please don’t be offended when stopped from approaching.
Recently, while pumping gas, a man was going pump-to-pump talking to customers. Not knowing exactly what he wanted he was stopped as he approached. He was thanked and told I was not interested. He immediately became offended, told me how rude I was and moved on. But he never came within ten feet. He moved to next pump and was overheard asking a lady for money to get him and his daughter home. She also declined. I watched him return to his car and meet up with his six-foot “daughter” who appeared to be quite male. Maybe he did need money and felt the daughter angle would work better, maybe it was a scam. Anyway, with all of the crime that takes place at gas pumps, not the wisest place to panhandle.


Another panhandling scam that is gaining popularity is the fake motorist in need of assistance. Police in central Maryland have had several reports of vehicles sitting on the side of the road or on highway ramps. When good Samaritans stop to help, the driver (usually male with a female companion and a child or more) will say that they only need money for gas. Most people will give them a few dollars and move on. The problem? The driver doesn’t move on. He/they pocket the money and wait for the next big heart to roll up. Recently, the Maryland State Police stopped to help just such a stranded motorist. While getting the spiel from the driver the Trooper noticed that the vehicles fuel gauge indicated a sufficient amount of fuel. Subsequent investigation led to the driver’s arrest after which he was found to be in possession of several hundred dollars.
Luckily, most criminals do not want confrontation. They want the quick grab and slip away without the victim knowing. Crime is still based on three elements-means, motive, and opportunity. Take one of these elements away and you can reduce your risk of being a victim. Most criminals have the desire and the motive. What they are looking for is the opportunity.
Pumping gas, ATMs, movie rental boxes, even the grocery checkout, anywhere a person is focused on operating an electronic pay device can give a criminal the opportunity they need to pounce. Watch for people trying to talk to you as a distraction while their partner steals from your car or worse, comes up behind you. Keep your doors locked and pay attention to what is going on around you.

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