Petrol stations have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds increasing forecourt security as they fear a surge in thefts due to the rise in VAT and fuel duty.
Bosses fear the additional 3.5p per litre will lead to more motorists filling their tanks and driving off without paying.
As a result many have improved CCTV cameras and alarms and reinforced padlocks on underground fuel tanks.
As an additional measure, big retailers such as BP, Shell and Texaco now use 'tough' credit agencies to chase people who falsely claim to have forgotten their cash or cards.
It comes as police today released CCTV images of a man driving a red Lexus with fake number plates who has driven off from stations without paying seven times in a year.
An industry body also revealed that organised gangs armed with tankers have drained underground tanks at filling stations six times in six months.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the petrol group at the Retail Motor Industry, said he believed the new security measures would help prevent theft.
He said: 'Most petrol station operators have improved CCTV and alarm systems and reinforced padlocks and security on fuel tanks.
'They have taught staff to be more vigilant and are working with police forces on a local level to combat theft.
'This reduces the number of people that fill up and drive off making no effort to pay.
'However, we saw an increase in the number of people presenting themselves at the till claiming to have no means of payment.
'They fill up, come inside and burst into tears saying: "I've got no money and no credit card - I will come back and pay." But they don't.'
He added: 'We are now seeing thieves coming in with tankers and breaking into underground tanks when the stations are closed.
'They syphon off the whole tank into the tankers and leave. We have had about six such incidents in the past six months.
'They usually take the diesel because it is easier to re-sell.'
Hampshire Police are the hunting the driver of the red Lexus who has filled his car with over 600 pounds of fuel in Tadley, Basingstoke, Newbury and services on the A34.
A Hampshire Police spokeswoman said: 'Leaving from a petrol station without paying is theft, and we will seek to prosecute anyone who does this.
'This is not a victimless crime as the knock-on effect is normally felt by those who pay for goods and services.'
There are about 10,500 petrol stations in the UK and the cost of a CCTV system with number plate recognition is about £15,000.
Debbie Brown, the manager of Portsdown Filling Station in Widley, Hampshire, said two people had driven off without paying at her station in the past week.
She said: 'The thefts come in phases but we have had two this week. They just fill up and drive off.
'It's going to get worse as prices have gone up with the VAT. The price increase is just going to create more problems.
'You get people who do all the petrol stations.
'People think they can get away it.'
Andrew Howard, from The AA, said: 'When you consider a petrol station is only making a few pence on each tank of fuel sold, someone doing a runner with 60 pounds of fuel is a big problem.
'The retailer has to pass this price onto other motorists, pushing the price up further.'
The average price of unleaded petrol stands at 124.16p.
This time last year petrol was at 107.74p a litre.
The AA estimates that in total, motorists are spending almost £10million more a day on petrol than this time a year ago.