Security has always been a big issue for forecourts and retailers today must contend with an ever-widening range of crimes – from drive-offs and theft to credit-card fraud and, even, staff fraud.
The good news is that solutions to forecourt crime are constantly being developed and data from the British Oil Security Syndicate’s (BOSS) Forecourt Crime Survey 2003 shows that such efforts are having a positive impact – losses from forecourt crime, excluding credit card fraud, cost the petrol retail industry £20.5m in 2003 compared to £20.7m in 2002. Meanwhile, criminal incidents including violence, robbery, burglary and criminal damage fell 12% to 2,548 and losses were down by a similar percentage to £997,000.
According to BOSS, drive-offs – or bilking – represent nearly 70% of all losses from criminal activity at forecourts, costing retailers £14.3m a year, and for this reason, BOSS’s own campaign to make forecourts safer – the Forecourt Watch scheme – focuses heavily on drive-offs.
Forecourt Watch currently operates in over 70 areas across the country in partnership with police forces. BOSS says recent Forecourt Watch schemes have cut forecourt crime by more than 50% – and by up to 70% in some areas – and hopes ultimately to have them operating in every major UK city.
Kevin Eastwood, executive director of BOSS, explains: “BOSS has established Forecourt Watches in partnership with local police forces and agencies, to protect and safeguard the well-being of service station staff and customers, while reducing crime and the fear of crime.
“The schemes work by encouraging petrol retailers to inform the police and their neighbouring forecourts of criminal activity so action can be taken before crimes are committed elsewhere.”
The latest scheme, for example, has been set up in Stratford with plans to roll it out over the whole of Warwickshire by April 2005. The new partnership helps Stratford District police officers distinguish between accidental and intentional drive-offs. It also provides them with helpful information, such as CCTV evidence, with which to target and arrest criminals.
Each petrol retailer, meanwhile, receives staff training to help them to get the most out of their CCTV systems. They also get packs for recording and managing incidents. Additionally they receive materials such as Forecourt Watch branded signs for the forecourt and stickers for the pumps.
One scheme that specifically targets drive-offs is Drivestop, which officially launched last month. Managing director Jaginder Mudhar was an independent forecourt retailer who was put out of business by drive-offs and decided to come up with a deterrent.
“Retailers – particularly independents – have had enough of soft options,” he says, “so I went to the offenders themselves to find out what would stop them from committing drive-offs. The result was Drivestop –
it is currently on four sites and has totally eliminated drive-offs on all of those sites.”
The Drivestop package consists of a series of on-site warnings for would-be offenders including posters, traffic lights and audio recordings. It also includes floor plates or ‘stingers’ at the site exit which, when activated by the retailer, will deflate a vehicle’s rear tyres.
"We have the full backing of the police and bodies such as the Petrol Retailers Association,” explains Mudhar, adding “it is perfectly legal to deflate tyres of a vehicle where there is theft involved.”
Mudhar has come up with a ‘DIY’ Drivestop package specifically for independents, that costs from £3,400. It excludes the mechanism that activates the floor plates, but retailers can upgrade at any time.
Today’s CCTV systems are increasingly being used in conjunction with epos data to pinpoint losses from the business and are particularly helpful in rooting out staff fraud or ineptitude.
CTN Systems and Multi Image Solutions, for example, have launched SuperVision, a tool which integrates the SuperStore epos system with digital CCTV.
Retailers can use SuperVision’s ‘immediate search’ facility for any product scanned, any specific transaction type (eg void, no sale, £50 note), or any staff member, and these will be immediately accessed from any or all of the installed cameras. The recorded image is matched to the operator, the till and the transaction, giving retailers a full picture of a given event or transaction.
The system can, for example, search through all transactions involving a particular product or even a ‘no sale’ transaction between certain dates and times – and images can even differentiate between notes of different denominations.
A feature called Clerk Key has also been added to SuperStore and allows the retailer to predetermine how and when staff use the till. Each staff member is issued with a swipe card, which must be swiped before using the till at the start of the shift for example – although retailers can set their own parameters.
Hugh Fenton, sales and marketing director at CTN Systems, says: “We
are extremely aware of the security aspect and are continually developing new features for SuperStore to aid retailers. We are confident that the Clerk Key is an extremely simplistic way of keeping track and works in conjunction with an audit trail, which monitors prices. These features, combined with our joint venture SuperVision, link the till to the digital CCTV, giving the retailer market-leading protection against internal and external loss.”
Meanwhile, Innovetra has a product called Fraud Alerter, designed to identify potential fraudulent activity by staff. The software analyses all transactions and highlights where problems may exist.
Fraud Alerter can be used as part of the company’s Managed Loss Prevention programme (which combines software with working methods) and has been implemented at Texaco’s company-owned sites, which have seen a return on investment in four months.
Fraud Alerter automatically analyses transactions from Texaco’s sites every night and the findings are accessed by loss prevention auditors. The company says it can visit a site within days of a questionable event, making investigations more effective.
Mike Noyce, European security and audit manager of Texaco, says: “Managed Loss Prevention provides a comprehensive approach to combating fraud.
“We soon found a number of instances of internal fraud and theft that would not have been detected without the new system. It helps us to root out fraud very quickly so we are able to nip it in the bud before it becomes a big problem. We have also been able to identify areas where we need more staff training as Fraud Alerter shows where correct procedures are not being followed.”
Anti-hold-up safes are designed to deter criminals from attempting robberies by making it clear that safes can only be opened at pre-determined times – and it’s not possible for staff to override this.
Mike Palmer, sales and marketing director at Guardian Safes, says: “Anti-hold-up systems, together with their warning signs, have been shown to immediately reduce the risk of armed robbery by as much as 80%.”
Most anti-hold-up safes have a time-delay function of, say, five minutes to further deter criminals – most raids take under a minute so would-be thieves will be unwilling to wait around.
Guardian Safes says the anti-hold-up device usually takes the form of a coffer fitted inside the safe – although the company has also come up with full-sized, free-standing models as well as time-delay and time-lock systems that can be retrofitted to existing safes.