Petrol Pump Fraud

Mauritian motorists have been complaining since long about petrol stations not supplying the amount of petrol billed

Mauritian motorists have been complaining since long about petrol stations not supplying the amount of petrol billed. They assess the shortfall by the rapidity with which their tanks become empty and hurry to go to another station where, they presume, they will get their money’s worth of petrol. Different ideas crop up in their minds as to how they could have been cheated. It could be the rapidity of the delivery by the pump, the jerks the operator gives to it, the meter not being returned to zero or a few other tricks. The extreme case is when only air is served, but the meter runs on and indicates the price charged for the order.

The doubts as to the honesty of the pump owners may or may not be true but the new electronic-based technology has come up with broad daylight robbery. An electrician in Lucknow, India, has developed a chip which, when installed, reduces the output by a certain percentage, say 6%, although the meter shows the correct amount ordered. The owner takes 60 ml out of one litre. The chip is remote-control operated. It is sensor-based and works like a security lock of four wheelers. It is used without any internet connection. What started as a secret illegal practice worth a few thousand rupees and its fixing in the petrol dispensing machine, has spread nation-wide in less than a decade. The closeness of Mauritians with the mainland throws concern for the poor consumer at home.

It was thought that the electronic meters were tamper free. This is no longer true. Pump-owners have the chips installed under the garb of having the pumps repaired. Officials from the Metrology Department, Weights and Measurements Section, break the official seal to fix it up. It then becomes possible to put the chips in place. Only a true expert in the science can locate it.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Mauritius, has ordered the Metrology Department to look into the matter. The technicians are proceeding by taking a litre of petrol and verifying whether it is concordant with the price. This way they will never catch any culprit for the chip is remote-controlled from cash drawers and is not in use permanently. It is switched on when specific amounts are being sold and then switched off. 5% or more is withheld when someone is buying, say, a thousand rupees worth, that, too, in the morning and late in the evening till the early hours. The meter shows the correct figure but the customer has received less by the percentage taken away. The officials will fail in their mission in such a situation.

The first thing to do is to know that the chip is placed just near the pump holder inside the machine. It would be better if one such chip could be made available through, perhaps , the Indian High Commission as hundreds of them have been seized in that country. Actually, the technicians are proceeding in a simplistic manner by taking quantity samples to verify whether the pump is delivering a specific amount for the price charged. The thieves knew that that the engineers would proceed in this way. This is why they have come out with the controlled delivery system to counteract the official way of checking.

It required a really talented expert to spot the incriminated device in India. Once the secret was unfolded, the police intervened and thousands of them have been found and the culprits arrested. The problem is so crucial that all the pumps in the country are being reviewed. At the approach of the police, some petrol pumps have disappeared overnight. No wonder the device has not been found in our pumps yet. First, its presence must be ensured. If it has not been seen and we do not know about its ways of functioning, it will be impossible to expect any positive results. Our technicians do routine checks. Now that their eyes are being opened as to how they will go about performing their job of setting right such an awful crime, positive results must ensue.

Time is running by and, up to now, no news of any discovery has been registered. The malpractice may still be thriving around us. It may even have been stopped before any arrest made as news about it and its working are broadcast in the media. This would be good for all of us as petrol is so important to us in our daily lives. We may then be getting our proper due. Let us hope so.

 

  • Published in print edition on 8 September 2017

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