Fleet News

Price hike fuels fears of highway robbery

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Instability in the oil market, the credit crunch in the US and a multitude of other factors mean that both petrol and diesel cost well over £1 a litre, and many fleets are feeling the pinch.

Keeping track of and managing fuel spend is now more important than ever. Many experts in the fleet industry recommend using fuel cards as an efficient and effective way of monitoring fuel usage across the fleets.

But having a card that allows drivers to instantly charge fuel to their employers can be a temptation, and fleet managers need to be vigilant for fraudulent use.

For some, the temptation to fill up a friend or family member’s car and charging it to the company is too much to resist.

“The rise in fuel prices has, in principle, made fuel cards a more valuable commodity and, as such, they have become more likely to be targeted for fraudulent use,” says Mike Waters, head of market insight at fuel and fleet management specialists Arval.

Mr Waters says there is no evidence that a rise in prices automatically means a rise in fraud, but warns that it is as important as ever to take steps to reduce dodgy dealings.

“There are steps that fleet managers can take to reduce overall levels of fuel card fraud,” he says.

“Many of these preventative measures can be put in place using the regular management reports produced from fuel cards.

"Fleet managers can clearly monitor vehicle performance by the mileage-per-gallon or pence-per-mile data available from the fuel card management reports.

“This is a quick and easy way to spot any sudden additional fill ups that could be a result of fraudulent use.”

Hytek is a firm specialising in the supply of fuel-related equipment, including pumps and management solutions for fleets.

Sales director Andy Sears says: “Unfortunately, as the cost of fuel increases so does the likelihood of fuel theft or fraud.

“Everyone needs fuel to keep their vehicles running, and opportunities for theft present themselves at the petrol station or with drivers using fuel cards or company credit cards to fill up.”

Mr Sears says fraud on fuel cards is very difficult to spot.

“While you would notice a whole tank of fuel going missing from one of your vehicles overnight, it is trickier to spot smaller amounts of petrol or diesel going AWOL over time,” he says.

“Unpleasant as it is to contemplate, theft of fuel by staff must be considered. How can you be sure that all the fuel your driver dispenses goes into his company vehicle?

"It could be that she or he fills up a private car or a friend’s van as well with your fuel.”

Mike Waters recommends that, where possible, each individual card is allocated to a specific vehicle and its driver.

“When the driver reaches point of sale at a fuel station the assistant taking payment will need to check not only the signature on the back of the card, but also that the vehicle registration corresponds with the fuel card being used,” he says.

“This method is clearly not fool-proof and relies primarily on the vigilance of staff at the point of sale, but it can work as a deterrent to anyone considering filling a vehicle that is not registered to the card.”
Other tactics include setting up alarms on monthly management reports to flag up suspicious increases in fuel use or mileage.

And simple checks such as ensuring that drivers of diesel cars are not buying unleaded fuel can also pick up anyone attempting to swindle the system.

Those wary of fuel cards because of the potential for abuse should not expect life to be easier without them, Mr Waters warns.

“While abuse of fuel cards may appeal to those presented with them, the alternative option of pay and reclaim as a way of fuelling a fleet offers little respite,” he says.

“Pay and reclaim creates increased amounts of administration work and, more importantly, does not have the benefit of management report data.

So, in fact, by opting for pay and reclaim as a preferred method of fuelling, fleet managers are actually lessening the control and monitoring capabilities they may currently have over the fleet.

“The best advice for dealing with fuel cards is simply to be vigilant.

"Monitoring monthly expenditure and remaining aware of any out of the ordinary changes will enable fleet managers and business owners to detect any misuse of company fuel cards.”

Alternatively, should your budget and circumstances allow it, you could consider doing away with forecourts and install a private tank and pump on site.

“Fuel cards offer you some protection at the pumps, but having a pump at your depot or base allows you to keep tight control of your fuel and means you can buy in bulk to avoid price fluctuations at the pumps,” Andy Sears says.

“Drivers can fill up away from petrol stations, and you can identify wasteful drivers, or those vehicles using more fuel from your management data.

“Such vehicles may simply need a service, maybe the driver is heavy- footed or perhaps there is something more sinister going on.”


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