Although the majority of this is through high street bankcards, unscrupulous thieves also target the fuel industry.
In one case, a company lost £250,000 to fuel thieves who were taking fuel cards left in drivers’ vehicles while they were being cleaned and selling them to local people, including taxi drivers.
Fleets using a company credit card for drivers to ‘pay and reclaim’ for fuel are also at risk of fraud.
But the industry is taking steps to tackle the fraud problem.
Mike Norton, head of risk management at fleet management and fuel card provider Arval, said: ‘Fuel cards are not open to the same risk of fraud as stolen or skimmed (copied) credit cards, which can be used in any retail environment, providing the fraudster with temporary widespread purchasing power.
‘Fuel cards operate only in a closed network of suppliers and can only be used to purchase controlled products so fraud risks are more controllable.
‘Fuel cards also include additional controls which stipulate the type of product that can be purchased, identify vehicle registration number and driver, and ensure that only the correct fuel type is purchased for the vehicle.’
There are measures that fleet operators can introduce to minimise the risk of fraud. Drivers should be alerted to the risk of being complacent with any company credit card (see list of safety measures above) and those using fuel cards should heed advice from the providers.
A spokesman at Abbey Fuel Cards said: ‘Card fraud can be cut down by ensuring that companies follow the recommendations of the card company. We have safeguards to help companies eliminate fraud, such as regularly contacting customers whose cards have not been used for a while to ensure they are safe.
‘We warn customers if a card is used to draw more than a certain amount of fuel or if the card is used outside of set hours. At present, these are just warnings, but are a useful tool as the fleet manager does not have to wade through reports showing all transactions. We can highlight only those which are outside normal parameters.’
The next big step is chip and PIN technology, currently being rolled out across most of the UK’s retail network. Instead of signing their names, drivers type in PIN codes, which should be much more secure.
With the introduction of chip and PIN, there is no change in liability for the cardholder. Innocent victims of credit card fraud remain fully protected from financial loss under the Banking Code.
Fuel card provider Total already provides a PIN verification facility on its card to help prevent fraudulent activity. Mary Andreas, card development manager at Total, said: ‘Card fraud is endemic in the UK and PIN verification with online authorisation would make our cards as secure as going to a cash machine.
‘Many customers are now demanding much tighter control over their fleet cards and more detailed financial reporting and this was something we wanted to introduce as part of the PIN cards solution. It allows us instant reporting and we receive reports highlighting fraud once a day. We can run checks across the network to spot abnormal patterns of usage, which helps fleet managers to reduce fraud.’