Filled your car with fuel and realised you left your wallet at home? Driven off and forgotten to pay? you could find yourself charged with a criminal offence or even facing fraud charges.

With an average of over 20 fail to pay incidents per week in Blacktown alone, a group of frustrated petrol station owners has created a name and shame group on Facebook.  A group called “Servo Watch” sees videos of fuel thieves as a warning.

Hotspots include Blacktown, Penrith, Canterbury, Bankstown, Liverpool, Cumberland and Burwood.

The lowest level of drive off offences seems to occur in the more affluent suburbs such as Hunters Hill, Woollahra and Mosman.

As petrol prices go through the roof, opinions are divided as to whether the price hike is linked to the increase in the number of people not paying for fuel. Petrol station owners think not but the Acting Executive Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime, Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), Jackie Fitzgerald says:

“an increase in the prevalence of the offence does match quite well with the increase in fuel prices”.

Statistics to March 2019 show that drive offs represent the majority of crime at petrol stations.

Previously considered a civil matter, police are now making initial enquiries to see if a criminal offence has occurred and are charging those who avoid paying by driving off or intentionally not paying at the counter either because they left their wallet at home or their pay mightn’t have gone to the bank in time.

Instead of reporting fuel theft to the local police station, fuel theft is reported to a central database via a Drive Off/Fail to Pay Form and fax it to a centralised command, PoliceLink. Two options are available for petrol stations. They can have an incident recorded but no action taken, or they can request that police investigate. The information provided to police includes CCTV footage, actions of the driver and passenger, registration details and how much fuel was taken.


Theft of fuel is found in section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900 and is actually fraud. The logic behind this is that you are permitted by the petrol provider to put fuel in your tank on the presumption that it will be immediately paid for. It is not a criminal offence if you intend to pay but the intention is to not pay promise is broken and you have obtained the benefit of the fuel by deception.

If your card is declined what is supposed to happen is that the operator takes your details including a copy of your licence, registration and address and you make an undertaking to return and pay. If you fail to return the station will make a complaint to a centralised data base. You may receive a call from an investigating police officer.

Intentionally not paying for fuel is obtaining benefit by deception and carries a criminal conviction and penalties ranging from fines up to 10 years imprisonment.

Driving off and making no attempt to pay is a different beast. It is where you put fuel in your car and simply leave without making any attempt to pay. As prices have climbed some people are taking elaborate steps to steal fuel including altering or putting false plates on. Other are brazenly filling up at the bowser and driving away.

In 2016, a Victorian man, Troy Brabham received a one month gaol term for a $39 petrol drive off. He was seen by police in an unmarked car while filling his car. At the time he told police that he couldn’t remember that particular drive off because he had done it a lot. In 2017 a Kelso woman was fined $250 on each count for twice filling her Holden Astra and driving away with no attempt to pay.

Fail to pay is on the increase in NSW and around the country. Police endorse a system that requires payment before the pump is turned on.

To read more about the offence of fraud/obtain benefit by deception click on this link.

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