BILLINGS - The gas price increase we saw earlier this year is finally returning to normal levels, but that doesn't mean thieves are stopping.
Many protect themselves from vehicle-related theft by ensuring valuables aren't left in their cars and double-checking that their doors are locked. Unfortunately, thieves continue to get creative, so it is important to stay aware.
"It's not like our gas just got out and walked away," said Jessika Morris, a recent victim of gas siphoning.
Morris said she went into the Albertson's on 24th Street West and Central Avenue on Friday for about 10 minutes and returned home with no problems.
The next day, Morris needed to run some more errands, so she got in her car to leave. To her surprise, her car wouldn't start. That's when she noticed that her fuel gauge was now empty.
Morris explains that she had just filled the tank, so she was extremely confused. She says that she figured the only place this could have happened was the Albertson's parking lot, as her car was parked in her garage overnight.
“I’m very upset. There’s not much you can do. You just try to live your life and hope someone doesn’t ruin your day," said Morris, who has lived in the area for 24 years.
Billings Police Department Lt. Matthew Lennick said he isn't aware of anything like what Moore described happening, although they occasionally get reports of fuel siphoning.
Although Morris says she did not file a report with the police or the store, she did take to social media to warn others in the community.
Morris said many other residents commented on her post with similar stories in the same parking lot, ranging from car doors being pried open to more siphoning events.
Commenters offered tips to avoid becoming victim to these types of theft, like purchasing a locking gas cap. Unfortunately, these locking gas caps still aren't enough to stop some thieves.
Andrew Ray also fell victim to car siphoning, but in an unusual manner.
Ray was attempting to leave for work when he turned on the ignition of his work-provided truck and noticed his tank was empty. Like Morris, Ray had just filled the tank, so he decided to check his security cameras to see if his fuel had been siphoned.
The cameras didn't catch anything suspicious, so Ray decided to head to the gas station to fill the tank again.
"It sounded like someone was pouring a water hose," Ray said.
When he investigated he found a quarter-sized hole in his gas tank and gasoline was pouring onto the ground.
He discovered that when the thieves attempted to siphon directly from the tank they were met with resistance as there was an anti-siphon valve installed. Unfortunately, that didn't stop the thieves, who ended up drilling a hole into the tank.
AAA also explains that most newer vehicles have an anti-rollover valve installed that makes siphoning more difficult, resulting in thieves escalating to drilling holes into the tank.
In light of these new tactics, AAA encourages vehicle owners to park in a secure location, as well as speak with their insurance provider to ensure they have adequate coverage in the event this happens to them.
"A small hole in your fuel tank can mean a big hole in your wallet," AAA writes.
They state that a new fuel tank can cost upwards of $1,000. In Ray's case, he says that his company had to spend $1,600 on a new tank.
“Park if you have cameras where you can see it," Ray said. “It’s just crazy. You can’t really trust anybody these days."