Tag Archives: Takoma Park

New target of thieves: your gas tank

The price of gas has jumped 45 cents since Jan. 1 and is the highest on record for this time of year, an average of $3.73 a gallon. The AP says economists don’t think it’ll derail America’s economic recovery (what recovery?), but if gas breaks its record of $4.11 a gallon, however, all bets are off.

I have news for those economists: I just heard radio news says the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gas in California is now $4.18. It’s even worse in Florida. CBS Tampa reports that some drivers in Florida are paying nearly $6 a gallon to fill up their tanks. Steve Ordland of Forbes says that “according to the experts, gasoline prices are rising and could top $6 per gallon by summer.”

Given that, it shouldn’t be a surprise that thieves are now going after the gas in your car.

Erica W. Morrison reports for The Washington Post, February 29, 2012, that residents of Takoma Park, Maryland, are discovering that thieves had drilled into their gas tanks and stolen the fuel.

When they stopped to fill their gas tanks recently, several Takoma Park residents realized something wasn’t quite right. As they pumped, a puddle of gasoline began to pool at their feet. Police said the drivers had fallen victim to thieves who drilled into their tanks and made off with the fuel.

Police believe that the incidents, which can be dangerous because gasoline vapors are flammable and can ignite with a spark, occurred overnight and on weekends. Police are still looking for who committed the crimes.

Thieves are also going after certain easily portable, high-value items: iPhones, laptop computers, cars’ Global Positioning System devices. Around the Washington region in recent months, people have swiped catalytic converters from parked cars — valuable because they contain trace amounts of precious metals, including platinum, and can be sold for cash at scrap yards. They have snatched newly delivered packages from doorsteps.

Sunglasses and coins have disappeared from locked and unlocked cars. A man in Charles County was charged with a string of tire and rim thefts. Work vans have been looted for tools.

Prescription medication has been swiped from homes. In a recent string of Montgomery thefts, the thieves walked up driveways and lawns, sometimes in daylight, to carry out their crimes, police said. When residents questioned them, they claimed to work for a gutter-cleaning company.

The group wasn’t after jewelry or flat-screen TVs. They were there for copper. In all, police said, the thieves struck 26 times over three winter months in Bethesda, Potomac and Rockville, swiping downspouts and gutters made of copper, and ripping entire HVAC units from the outside of houses, loading them onto trucks and driving off. Although the units might be worth more than $2,000, the thieves are only interested in the copper components — a metal that brings a high resale value these days.

Prince George’s County police officers said they’ve seen thefts of air conditioning units, too, and that homes being renovated or vacant for other reasons are particular targets.

Takoma Park police said the seven gas tank drillings were reported between November and January.

To limit the chances of falling victim, police encourage locking car doors and hiding all valuables, including items that might not seem worth stealing. Similarly, unlocked windows, patios or garage doors make homes good targets.

To keep cars safe from gas thieves, AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends parking in well-lighted areas and reporting suspicious behavior — people who seem to be lurking around parked cars, for instance. If you notice dripping gasoline or smell gas, call a garage or a tow truck.

Thieves have learned a tactic of targeting cars without attracting attention by breaking glass and without testing door after door. They have been known to comb fitness clubs for lockers they can open, take car keys and go through the nearby streets and parking areas pushing the keyless entry button. The beeps lead them straight to their bounty. Stephen Chaikin, a longtime prosecutor in Montgomery, said gym-goers should lock their keys in lockers.

Some car owners leave their cars unlocked to prevent criminals from damaging their cars while breaking in. But police advise otherwise, saying that gives criminals an easier shot at stealing the vehicle and possibly using it in another crime.

Howard County police spokeswoman Elizabeth Schroen said: “The biggest tip is obvious. Lock everything up, and you can prevent theft.”

~Eowyn