Buying heating oil in bulk and having it delivered directly to your tank at home is an increasingly popular option for consumers who are looking to keep their spending down, especially during periods of economic difficulty. And although this is definitely the way forward for many people, it seems there are members of the criminal fraternity who are determined to spoil things. If you store large amounts of heating oil security is a vital area for consideration.

It’s a sad fact that many people who have external oil storage tanks live in relatively remote areas, and their properties provide a great deal of temptation for thieves, who feel there is less chance of being caught than in the centre of towns and cities. And rural crime is continuing to be a serious problem for residents and police forces throughout the country.

In October 2011, Devon and Cornwall Police released figures which revealed the theft of heating oil from outside tanks had doubled in the previous year, a statistic that has caused widespread alarm throughout the rural communities of this idyllic area of the UK. The authority’s advice was stark: take precautions now, before you become another victim of these ruthless thieves.

So if you have an unprotected external storage tank, you should be taking immediate action. If you procrastinate, you may find it’s too late. The problem is that the criminals strike quickly and efficiently, and will always be on the lookout for opportunities to take your valuable oil, so here are a few precautions you can take.

Be alert at all times

Perhaps the most obvious way to make life difficult for thieves is to be extra vigilant. Asking neighbours and family members to make a note of suspicious vehicles and people is always a good idea. It’s worth remembering that the last thing criminals want to do is to draw attention to themselves, so if they know they have been noticed they will generally leave the area immediately.

A Neighbourhood Watch scheme can be a highly effective deterrent, especially in rural communities where the police are likely to have less of a presence. And it’s important to remember that if anything suspicious occurs, the best advice is to contact the local constabulary as soon as possible, and not to attempt to apprehend any wrong-doers yourself.

Top quality padlocks

On the oil tank itself, there are a number of precautions that can be implemented, and perhaps the most obvious is to use a good quality padlock. A standard model is unlikely to be sufficiently effective, because the majority of thieves will be equipped with bolt-cutters anyway, but there are various types available which have very small areas of the metal hoop showing, making it difficult for criminals to gain any purchase with their cutting tools.

And while on the subject of padlocks, home owners should always make sure they don’t skimp on this vital security option. Although there are several inexpensive padlocks on the market, the chances are they will turn out to be ineffective just when you need them most. In general, you get what you pay for, so if you spend a little more you are likely to get significantly more protection.

Make access more difficult

Criminals who regularly steal heating oil like to make a quick getaway, and will rarely stay around if it takes too long for them to access the tank. Therefore, if anything prevents them, even briefly, it should be worth considering. A strategically placed fence, for example, or a locked access door, can work wonders and may even be enough for the thieves to try their luck elsewhere.

Another good idea is for thorny, prickly bushes to be planted in the appropriate places. Criminals know all about how developments in DNA technology makes it easier for police forces to gain evidence at crime scenes, and will be acutely aware of the consequences of spilling a tiny drop of blood or of losing some fibres from their clothing.

Smile – you’re on camera!

These days, CCTV is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, and it can be a useful weapon in the battle against crime. A well-placed security camera or two can make the difference between a successful theft and a complete failure, and the cost doesn’t have to be prohibitive. Specialist companies can supply and fit them for less than you might think.

As well as filming equipment, motion-activated lighting is also an excellent idea. The average criminal will often flee as soon as the immediate area is bathed in bright light, and even the most determined thieves won’t like the idea of being seen as they go about their business. Again, the cost of security lighting isn’t overly prohibitive.

Other heating oil security options

There are also several other heating oil security options which are open to you, and each of them can be an effective step in defeating the thieves:

  • Oil flow switches
  • Electric cut-off systems
  • Oil level alarms
  • Warning posters
  • Steel cages around the tank

One thing is certain: if you do nothing you are leaving yourself open to theft, so make sure you do all you can to protect your valuable oil. And if you need further advice, simply ask at your local police station.