Police departments around the country report a worrying spike in gas thefts since the outbreak of the Ukraine war and the March 8 decision by the United States to ban gas imports from Russia, causing U.S. gas prices to reach new record highs.
While there are no comprehensive national or state statistics yet on 2022 gas-theft hot spots, one population cohort may offer some clues: Google search users.
BeenVerified identified 154 Google search terms which we broadly classified into three gas-theft categories: victims (searches for “gas theft," “stolen gas” and other related terms), users worried about gas-theft prevention (“anti fuel theft device” and related terms) and potential criminals (“how to steal gas” and related terms). We then examined national- and state-level search trends on those terms from January 2018 through March 2022.
Our findings show gas-theft search queries exploded in March, at the same time gas prices rose, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia—but some states had far more gas-theft related searches than others.
Searches on terms related to gas-theft victims jumped more than 600% nationally in March. For our findings, we looked at monthly averages on all terms from January 2021 to February 2022 and compared them to search volume in March. People searching for victim-related stolen-gas terms rose 622% in March. Gas-theft prevention searches rose 420.2% and terms on how to steal gas rose 123.6% the same month.
California and East Coast states saw the biggest increase in victim-related Google queries. Californians searching about stolen gas jumped 1,519.9% in March, followed by New Hampshire (1,005.3%), Texas (990.2%), Florida (921.4%) and New York (853.4%).
Twelve of the top 15 states or regions were clustered in the East Coast. New England states: New Hampshire, Rhode Island (723.5%), Vermont (716.7%) and Massachusetts (695.1%); Mid-Atlantic states: New York, Pennsylvania (789.9%) and New Jersey (679.6%). South Atlantic states and regions: Florida and North Carolina (770.6%), Delaware (766.7%), the District of Columbia (677.8%) and Virginia (650.9%).
- New Hampshire, California and Massachusetts saw the highest rise of gas-theft-prevention searches. New Hampshire saw an 880% increase in its monthly average of searches related to preventing gas theft, followed by California (685.1%), Massachusetts (637.8%), New Jersey (637.5%) and Maryland (613.2%).
Eight of the top 15 states were in the eastern U.S.: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, New York (586.9%), Pennsylvania (576.9%), Delaware (512.5%) and Florida (475.7%). Western states accounted for five of the top 15 states: California, Idaho (563.2%), Arizona (458.2%), Nevada (454.5%) and Utah (448.7%).
- Possible criminal-intent searches were highest in California, New York and Florida. Searches on “how to steal gas” and related terms rose 255.5% in California, followed by New York (204.5%), Florida (190.5%), New Jersey (180.3%) and Arizona (179.4%).
Again, eight of the top 15 states and regions that saw a spike in possible criminal-intent queries were on the East Coast: New York, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania (165.2%), the District of Columbia (159%), Rhode Island (127%), Massachusetts (123.3%) and Delaware (119%). Four of the top 15 states were in the West: California, Arizona, Washington (129.4% ) and Nevada (128.3%).
- There was a previous surge in gas-theft searches during the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. Search volume related to gas-theft terms—which held steady every month we examined back to 2018—suddenly jumped 91.1% in May 2021. That coincided with the hacker attack of the Colonial Pipeline, which caused panicked gas buying and temporary gas shortages.
March rise in victim-related search terms
|13||District of Columbia||677.8%|
March rise in prevention-related search terms
|45||District of Columbia||237.9%|
March rise in possible crime-related search terms
|8||District of Columbia||159.0%|
To be sure, Google searches are not a precise indicator of all gas-theft crimes. “But Google searches are an accurate barometer of what’s on people’s minds—and we definitely saw a nationwide spike in people who suddenly had ‘gas theft’ on their minds in March,” said Julianne Ohlander, a data analyst for BeenVerified.
“It stands to reason that a large percentage were themselves victims, and a smaller—but not insignificant—-percentage of possible would-be thieves searched to see how to jump into this crime wave,” Ohlander said. “The thought comes before the deed.”
Gas-theft prevention tips
The AAA and police give motorists this advice for trying to protect themselves from gas thieves:
- Consider purchasing a gas cap lock.
- Park your car inside a private garage when possible.
- Avoid parking in public places for an extended period of time, such as an airport parking lot.
- Park in well-lit, well-traveled locations. When parking in a parking garage, try to find a spot near elevators and exits which have highest visibility and foot traffic.
- When parking your car outside, try to park with your gas tank facing the street side.
BeenVerified identified 154 Google search terms related to gas theft and tracked national and state monthly search trends from January 2018 to March 2022. Monthly search volume increases were determined by comparing the monthly average on search terms from January 2021 through February 2022 to March 2022 search totals.
For more information, contact Kerry Sherin (firstname.lastname@example.org).
BeenVerified’s mission is to help people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives. BeenVerified and our associated websites curate dozens of public data sources and proprietary data sets to give people easy and affordable access to billions of public records, including a VIN number lookup tool to research vehicle history.