Free refueling seems to have become a national sport. Martin Witt, lessee of two Sprint gas stations in Berlin and Brandenburg, says angrily that gas fraudsters regularly come with cars whose license plates are often stolen or falsified.

The 33-year-old describes these professionals as “regular customers”. They visited a colleague who leased a gas station in the center of the capital almost every day: “The damage there has been around 8,000 euros per year on average so far.”

Since the war in Ukraine, the prices for petrol and diesel have risen massively. A circumstance that has evidently tempted more and more motorists to use a criminal variant of refueling in recent weeks: “drain and run away”.

Fuel fraud has increased significantly in several federal states, according to research by WELT AM SONNTAG at the state criminal investigation offices.

In Berlin, 1938 such crimes were already registered by the police in the first quarter of this year – in the first quarter of 2021 there were 1067. This corresponds to an increase of 81.6 percent. It went up similarly steeply in neighboring Brandenburg with 1312 actions (first quarter of 2021: 693).

Saarland also recorded a “strong increase” without naming numbers. Saxony (from 423 to 548 acts), Hamburg (from 343 to 475 acts), Bavaria (from 110 to 140 acts) and Thuringia (from 30 to 72) also report increases.

While Baden-Württemberg, Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein also speak of an increasing trend, “hardly any difference” can be seen in Hesse and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. In Bremen/Bremerhaven, on the other hand, there are fewer actions. The other countries do not provide any information.

Hans-Joachim Rühlemann, who has been a petrol station operator in Berlin for 30 years and is chairman of the North-East Association of Garages and Petrol Stations, explains the sharp increase: “It certainly plays a role that Berlin and Brandenburg is a poorer region and people have less Have money at your disposal than anywhere else in the republic.” In principle, the rule of thumb applies: the higher the petrol prices rise, the more fuel fraud has.

The criminals were now becoming bolder. They often bring large canisters with them and draw off petrol or diesel from stocks. “Some perpetrators put several canisters on the back seat of their car. The claws made to order on a large scale. The damage is then 200 euros per case,” says Rühlemann. As a rule, fuel worth between 70 and 100 euros is stolen.

Experts estimate the total damage caused every year at around 14,000 gas stations (150,000 employees) nationwide at around 30 million euros. The tenants usually report the cases to the police using videos, and the mineral oil companies reimburse them for the shortfalls.

Gas stations only earn 0.8 to 1.3 cents per liter of petrol sold. They can hardly survive without the additional income from their shops. Unless they have a criminal record, scammers get away with a fine. Repeat offenders can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.