If you see someone with a garden hose siphoning heating oil out of your fuel tank, don't bother calling the heating company. Try the police instead.
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According to Capt. Jerry Nankervis of the Juneau Police Department, thieves are hitting home oil tanks all over town.
"Fuel oil gets stolen every winter, to a greater or lesser degree," he said. But this year is different, and the main difference is the price.
Heating oil sells for about $3 a gallon this year, up from about $2.75 last year. As the price goes up, so do the number of ripoffs.
This year, they have ranged from the relatively petty - someone taking a 5-gallon can - to the spectacular. A 55-year-old woman reported in November that 1,000 gallons, or $3,000 worth of fuel, had been stolen from the 9000 block of Mendenhall Loop Road.
The same day, a 52-year-old man reported 110 gallons stolen from his home on the 8800 block of Duran Street. Police officers are getting reports of heating-oil thefts every other week, but Nankervis said he thinks the crimes are a lot more common than that; most people just don't report them.
Many people may not notice them until it's too late, since few people check their tanks every day.
How do you steal 1,000 gallons of oil? It's simple: one gallon at a time.
"You siphon it into a tank that's a pretty good-size tank and you do multiple trips, or you do one big trip," Nankervis said.
So far there have been no witnesses, he said. Thieves usually wait for darkness.
"It could be one person, or a small group of people, or a whole bunch of people doing it," he said.
Jeff Hansen of Taku Oil Sales said most customers are unaware they've been hit until they've run out of fuel.
"Usually when they find out, it's when they cant believe they're out of fuel oil already," he said.
The victims are usually the ones who can afford it least, Hansen said. Many of them are people in mobile homes who are struggling to make ends meet.
Fortunately, there are ways to stop, or slow down a thief, Nankervis said. Some plumbing and hardware stores sell lockable tank caps.
Nankervis also recommends illuminating fuel tanks with motion-sensing lights. Hansen agreed.
"Somebody's tank in the yard with a light on it is harder to hit," he said.
Anyone who sees a theft in progress is urged to call police at 586-0600.
Will Morris may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org