BOSS Payment Watch is the leading debt recovery service for fuel retailers. The scheme features a robust set of guidelines and procedures that help forecourt retailers to deal with Drive-Off (also referred to as bilking) and No Means of Payment (NMoP) incidents. Bruce Nichol, BOSS operations director, reviews initiatives to tackle Drive-Off and NMoP forecourt crime incidents.
On average each incident costs forecourt operators around £50, but BOSS research has established that the real problem is more than a million incidents take place every year. This means Drive-Offs and NMoP costs the forecourt sector about £60 million per annum; that’s double the problem it was 10 years ago.
The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated a trend towards NMoP and it now accounts for approximately two thirds of all forecourt fuel crime incidents. Since June the volume of Drive-Offs has returned to pre COVID levels. Regionally we didn’t see too much of drop off in the south east but in northern and rural areas we recorded fewer incidents.
BOSS analysis has also found that only 10% of Drive-Off incidents are the result of a motorists deliberately filling up and then driving away from a pump and not entering a store to pay for fuel. Therefore, 90% of incidents are motorists failing to pay once they enter the store. We’d encourage all retailers to be extra vigilant, especially during busy periods, and when a motorist says no fuel, ask where they have parked.
Should a motorist say they don’t have the means to pay for fuel, try to remain calm and courteous. In the majority of cases this type of incident is a genuine mistake. Retailers should collect the customer’s name, address, postcode and car registration number. As most people have a mobile phone ask for their mobile phone number and try it. Then follow industry standard procedure, such as BOSS Payment Watch, as a means to recover what’s owed.
When a Drive-Off incident takes place, forecourt retailers should collect incident information from CCTV and report vehicle details. Using BOSS Payment Watch means retailers can report an incident on bespoke electronic platform allowing BOSS to follow-up. Where vehicle owners do not pay for the fuel taken, then BOSS will pursue the debt and work alongside the police where necessary. If reports are done quickly and accurately there is a much higher rate of recovery.
Common warning signals that a crime might be about to occur include:
- Driver still at the wheel; passenger filling up
- Open doors or open boot
- Number plates hidden or appear altered
- Lights of the vehicle still switched on
- Vehicle parked facing away from the kiosk towards an exit
- Customer trying to hide behind their own or another vehicle when filling up
If something suspicious is happening on the forecourt then we’d suggest staff could either:
- If possible, make eye contact; this can be surprisingly effective if the person knows someone has seen them
- Use the tannoy to make suspicious people aware you have noticed them on the forecourt. Ask them to check their engine is off if lights are on, close open doors, etc.
- If the forecourt is manned by two or more staff, make regular walks out onto the forecourt to restock or clean the forecourt
- Don’t be afraid to request pre-payment; go with your instinct
At all times ensure that your CCTV system is working correctly and the image is clear. Also retain all CCTV images of Drive-Off or NMoP incidents as it may be needed as evidence at a later stage.
For 30 years BOSS has been campaigning on behalf of forecourt retailers for the Government and police to recognize that forecourt crime is a major problem. The recession of 2008 saw fuel crime increase and it ultimately led to the introduction of BOSS Payment Watch and, since then, BOSS has been really successful at collecting and returning millions of pound to retailers.
We anticipate a further surge in forecourt crime as the COVID-19 recession bites. Since the economy began to reopen after lockdown we’ve seen forecourt crime increase at a time when fuel prices are falling.
We all know that nowadays unless violence is involved the police will not pursue low value crime and, from around 2010, it has been treated more as a civil matter, so the police believe it’s for retailers to chase the debt. BOSS has lead the way in helping retailers to recover fuel debts, reduce losses and protect margins, at a time when the forecourt retail sector is under immense pressure.
British Oil Security Syndicate