Oil thieves on the prowl

Homeowners in the South East are being warned to be vigilant after a rise in fuel prices has meant that heating oil may be an attractive target for theft.

With many consumers filling their storage tanks in preparation for the cold winter the risk of theft has increased, say experts.

Several recent incidents have seen thieves target quiet, rural communities, siphoning fuel from oil storage tanks outside people’s homes, leaving them with little or no fuel.

Most victims have been completely unaware that anything was wrong until their heating stopped working because they had run out of oil.

The Oil Firing Technical Association - the body representing the oil heating and cooking industry - urged homeowners to be aware and to take precautions to protect their fuel oil. Jeremy Hawksley from OFTEC said: “Usually it’s only when people run out of oil and their heating stops working that theft becomes apparent.

“Making a regular note of your oil levels and taking simple preventative measures will help to make sure that you are not the victim of oil theft.”

To help protect your fuel supply OFTEC recommends oil heating consumers should:

Check the fuel levels regularly to make sure that none has gone missing.

Lock the tank. Most tanks can be locked at the inspection cover or a lockable filler cap can be retro fitted to existing oil tanks.

Install automatic movement sensor security lighting around the tank.

Consider having an alarm system fitted to the tank which will warn if oil levels drop suddenly. This could also be useful if an oil leak occurs.

Be vigilant following a delivery - some fuel distributors have reported that their delivery vehicles have been followed in the past. Thieves may also return to steal replacement oil following an initial theft.

Plant shrubs or use fence panels to hide the tank, but make sure any screening is an appropriate distance away from the tank so it doesn’t cause a fire hazard.

Report any suspicious activity to the police.

Theft of heating oil tends to be a rural problem in the South East where OFTEC estimates that 95,000 homes use oil for heating. The majority of those homes do not have access to mains gas and rely on alternative forms of heating such as oil. When fuel prices rise heating oil becomes a lucrative commodity for thieves, with both homes and businesses being targeted.