Last month, Pacifiers & Peacemakers shared some video tips for safely navigating a parking lot to find a good spot and to return to your vehicle. But I’ve also had people ask me specifically about what to do to be safe at gas stations. Carjackings, kidnappings, physical attacks and other crimes have occurred at gas stations, but theft is the most common crime for this area. Statistics show that in 2012, more than 7,100 robberies occurred at gas stations across the country. Some of these were robberies in the store (targeting the store clerk), but some were crimes that took place with customers at the pump.
The National Crime Prevention Council reports that the unique setting of a gas station allows thieves to catch their victims by surprise when they are pumping gas or paying their tab. Their website shares, “Most of the time, gas station customers leave their car doors unlocked and items like purses and wallets are often left in plain view. A thief is able to drive up next to the victim’s car, open an unlocked door and grab any valuables within reach. Then, the thief quickly drives off. It happens in a matter of seconds.”
Luckily, we know that most of these thefts can be prevented if the appropriate precautions are taken. Here are some recommendations to keep you from becoming a victim at gas stations.
- If possible, use gas stations in safe, familiar areas.
- Pump gas when it’s light outside, or choose facilities that are well-lit.
- Look for video surveillance cameras at the pump. (Criminals don’t like to be seen or caught, so video cameras can be a deterrent to them.)
- Choose a pump that is in view of store workers or other patrons.
- Don’t get trapped. If possible, select a pump that allows you to leave easily or that keeps people from getting behind you. And don’t get tangled up in the hose or get stuck by a barrier of some kind.
- Always remove your keys and lock the doors while you are pumping gas. (As mentioned, we see a lot of theft happen when doors are left unlocked. The robber simply opens a door and quickly snatches items without the owner even realizing it happened.)
- Get back in your car or leave if you feel unsafe or threatened. I sometimes get back in my vehicle (and lock the doors) while the gas is pumping, depending on whether I have my kids with me or if I feel uncomfortable.
- Keep valuables out of plain view in your vehicle and lock the doors, even if you plan to go inside for only a short time.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. Other people at the gas station should be pumping gas or purchasing items … not contemplating you, your car, your kids or whatever might be with you.
- Don’t let your kids, cell phone or anything else distract you.
- Have your credit card or payment ready ahead of time. Don’t fiddle or fumble around at the pump or inside. Be purposeful and efficient.
- If you have a tool for self-defense, make sure it’s easily accessible to you. So, if it happens to be in a purse, have it on/with you. (This is one reason I prefer a cross-body bag. My hands can be free, but I still have my wallet, keys and backup gun right there with me!)
- If approached, don’t be afraid to tell the person to back away. Say, “I don’t know you. Get away!” (I’ve heard many stories of panhandlers making up some crazy stories and asking for money at gas stations. Don’t engage if you don’t have to!)
- If threatened, don’t be afraid to shout or yell for help and go through the appropriate motions to avoid, escape and defend.
Gas stations may be vulnerable locations for people, but thinking and planning ahead can put you ahead of the game. You can’t plan for every situation or scenario, but you can use good situational awareness and the mindset that you will not be a victim.