RURAL dwellings around Andover using oil-fired central heating are thought to be more at risk of oil thefts as winter sets in.

Residents are warned to remain vigilant throughout January and February when the demand for oil may increase.

A rural crimes survey showed that fuel was the third most attractive commodity for thieves targeting rural properties.

This, coupled with more severe cold weather and increasing oil prices likely in the coming months, makes heating oil prone to theft.

Malcolm Farrow, from OFTEC, the Oil Firing Technical Association, said: “This is an issue that we can’t stress enough at this time of year as no one wants to run out of oil and risk going cold.

“If more people are aware and vigilant of oil thefts in rural communities, hopefully there will be fewer victims.

“Thefts can take place at any time of year as thieves are extremely opportunistic.

However, January and February often brings the harshest weather and this, combined with people feeling the pinch after Christmas, can make the early new year a popular time for thieves to strike.”

Inspector Paul Pressley from Hampshire Constabulary, said: “Heating oil theft is a regular problem in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, particularly in rural locations.

“By being aware and taking simple precautions to protect your tank you can significantly reduce the risk.

“The effect of this crime on victims is costly and inconvenient.”