ATLANTA - While most consumers are paying high prices at the pump, thieves are finding new ways to get it for free and turn it into cash.
When gas prices are high, crooks see an opportunity to make a profit, finding new ways to steal gas, selling it at make-shift black market gas stations to turn a profit.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jim Strickland discovered that this kind of theft happened at a Shell gas station in north Fulton County.
"They broke a tool inside that counts the gallons and the amount and every time you pump gas it will just turn on by itself," said Aziz Lokhandwala, manager of the Shell station off Roswell Road and Northridge in Sandy Springs.
Lokhandwala said someone rigged two pumps and stole more than $24,000 worth of fuel.
"You can't put 300 gallons in your car... so I'm pretty sure they are selling it somewhere else," said Lokhandwala.
Thieves used the same method at a Walmart gas station in Snellville.
Two men pull up in a white panel van rigged with 100-gallon tanks, eventually driving off with 290 gallons of stolen diesel fuel.
"Sometimes they will put the hood up to make it look like they are having troubles with their car or something like that to make it not so obvious that they are spending an inordinate amount of time at the pump," said Secret Service Agent Michael Sweazey.
Sweazey said federal agents get involved when crooks use credit cards to steal gas and turn it into cash.
Using trucks or vans specifically outfitted for thievery, they can get away with thousands of dollars worth of fuel to sell on the underground market.
"If you're driving a truck and you're spending $4.50 for diesel and you can go and buy it for $2.70, over the long run, that's going to save a lot of money," said Sweaty.
In an industrial park in southwest DeKalb County, one man even set up an underground black market fuel pump, selling stolen diesel fuel to customers for a dollar less than what the nearby gas stations where charging.
Acting on a tip, police raided a warehouse in Conley and found thousands of dollars of stolen diesel fuel.
"It's just like when you're dealing with drugs or contraband, the word gets out where you can get it and you get to know the people who can provide it to you," said Sweazey.
Sometimes thieves tap directly into the underground storage tanks to siphon fuel.
Police in California said one man created a fake bread truck with a false bottom and an elaborate pumping system to steal gas. Police apprehended him.
In Tampa, Fla., a minivan was converted to steal gasoline. Several men attempted to siphon fuel, but an officer spotted them.
Jim Tudor of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores told Strickland that owners are taking preventative measures after reports across the country of gas thefts from the storage tanks.
"If you're a retailer that gets hit two or three times, you're not going to be a retailer very long. You're going to be out of the gasoline business," said Tudor.
Thieves might think they are ripping off big oil, committing a victimless crime, but those crooks stealing thousands of dollars’ worth of gasoline are transporting that fuel in unsafe containers. Often they forget just how explosive gasoline can be.
One man lost his life after his van exploded when he attempted to steal gas from a station in California.
"Unfortunately some people are brazen enough to lose their lives because they don't realize how volatile gasoline is," said Tudor.
Tudor told Strickland that trucks transporting stolen gas or fuel pose a danger to all drivers.
One spark and the unmarked vehicles could go up in flames, Tudor explained to Strickland.
"In some cases these vehicles have exploded while they were driving over. They are not OSHA approved for gasoline," said Tudor.
Don Jackson, a cyber-security expert with Dell Secure Works, is often brought in to investigate these types of crimes, specifically when thieves use stolen credit cards to purchase massive amounts of stolen gasoline.
"We see stolen mostly and resold in areas where there are a lot of inner-modal shipping containers," said Jackson.
Jackson told Strickland that Atlanta is an attractive place for gas pirating.
"We have an interstate system that links the eastern seaboard and the Atlanta ports with the Gulf of Mexico so we have ports and destination on both sides of us," said Jackson.
Authorities told Strickland that if you're at a gas station and you see someone spending an inordinate amount of time filling up, or using multiple credit cards to fill up, report it to the clerk.