CRIMINAL gangs in adapted vans are targeting trucks on the A16 and A17 to syphon hundreds of litres of fuel at a time.
In one of the latest incidents, a Romanian lorry driver slept undisturbed in a lay-by at Saracen’s Head while crooks stole 400 litres – worth nearly £600 – from his tank.
Thieves have equipped vans with pumps and barrels so they can steal hundreds of litres in one go.
Organised criminals are also hitting petrol stations and stealing red diesel from farms across the county.
Insp Phil Baker, of Lincolnshire Police, says gangs make thousands of pounds in just a few nights even if they sell on the fuel at heavily discounted prices.
He’s now warning lorry drivers to use supervised truck stops or park in well lit areas rather than take rest stops in unlit lay-bys.
Motorists across the county are also stealing fuel by filling up and fleeing the forecourt.
Such incidents are known as “bilking” or “drive-offs” and they shot up by 40 per cent to 480 offences in 2011 compared to the previous year.
Insp Baker said: “It’s always been an issue but since the cost has gone up we’ve seen a huge increase.”
He said petrol stations are losing anything from £5 to £100 a time from motorists, but much bigger sums to gangs with adapted vans.
Insp Baker said: “They have got pumps and barrels inside them.
“Some have modified vehicles so when they pull up, it looks like they are fuelling their van or car, but the tanks are inside.
“There’s a huge black market for fuel. There are people who just cannot afford it and have to commute to work but, by chancing it, they are risking losing their jobs.
“We can give people fines or they can end up in prison.”
Some bilkers also steal number plates to stick on their own vehicles in a bid to fool petrol station attendants or evade detection by forecourt CCTV cameras.
Insp Baker said: “We are looking at ways of people paying before they fill up.”