A Cockburn Police spokesman said there had been a spike in the crime around Christmas, especially in Spearwood and Munster, but the problem has proved to be more widespread.
Motor Trade Association of WA chief executive Stephen Moir said the drive-offs had been difficult to stop, with many featuring cars with stolen number plates.
‘How do you catch what you can’t see?’ he said. ‘When plates are swapped it gives criminals a few days at least before anyone realises what’s happened.’
Mr Moir said fuel theft was not a geographical issue, but a crime of opportunity that had a significant impact on local stations and the community.
‘Service stations are quite often small business people working on tight margins, so when they’re losing considerable money there is a chance that will be passed on to the consumer,’ he said.
‘We believe losses total about $6 million each year, and that just in WA.’
Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association chief executive Nic Moulis said efforts to stop fuel theft could potentially lead service stations to further sales losses.
‘We don’t want to confront the community,’ he said.
‘We want filling up to continue to be a simple process. But if things continue, and pre-paid petrol, ramps or other measures are introduced, it will have an impact; pre-paid especially because people won’t be going into stores to have a look around.’
A Cockburn Police spokeswoman said fuel drive-offs are often an honest mistake.
‘Often though, the vehicle will be registered to someone who doesn’t match the person shown on the CCTV,’ she said.
‘In which case we investigate who the owner is (and) who the driver is. We place an alert on the vehicle for the next officer to pull the vehicle over to investigate the stealing offence. The CCTV is kept in a case file and if the person stopped matches the description they would be arrested and interviewed.’