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Stop fueling the fire: 4 sneaky fuel theft practices and 4 ways to protect your fleet

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Fuel costs are skyrocketing, and unfortunately, so is the number of devious fuel theft tactics.

Despite meticulously planning your fleet routes, optimising fuel efficiency, and negotiating the best gas prices — your fuel costs inexplicably keep rising. The culprit? Fuel theft, the silent drain on your fleet’s bottom line, known to cost businesses millions annually.

Ask yourselves if you know the ways fuel theft usually occurs. Is your fleet prepared or protected against these practices?

We’ll explain four common tactics fuel fraudsters use, and four steps you can take to protect your fleet. Buckle up.

Most common fleet fuel theft practices

1. The driver adds fuel to non-company vehicles

Sometimes, employees use the fuel card or depot to fill up a private vehicle (usually their own).

It’s very easy for employees to be tempted to use the fuel card if they know they aren’t being tracked. It might start off as an accidental payment, but once they realise they could get away with it, it could then turn into more rampant behaviour.

Fleetyr has found instances where accomplished fuel card thieves have sold the use of company fuel cards to friends and family and it has resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in fuel loss.

2. The jerry can add-on

When filling up their work vehicle, employees can fill up a different container (typically a jerry can) and put it in the back of the car for them to bring home for personal use.

What this looks like for them? A win-win situation for all. What it really means for the company? A seemingly small but incremental misuse that costs the company up to thousands of dollars a year.

3. The fleet vehicle side hustle

The rising cost of living has resulted in people becoming more creative with how they can engage in a quick side hustle without incurring any costs themselves. This unfortunately means that they will look to “borrow” company resources to achieve their personal goals.

This can be as simple as, for example, one of your tradesmen using one of the company’s work utes or mini excavators on the weekend for an external “cash” job. All this to say that yes, “borrowing” a company vehicle equals using more company-paid fuel than intended, equals fuel theft consequences.

Fleetyr’s most outrageous “borrowed vehicle” case involves a work van used for contractor deliveries by a family member.

4. The “Someone stole my fuel card, boss”

Many reports document thieves stealing fuel cards directly from unattended company vehicles. In a few surprising cases, we’ve uncovered a deceptive strategy by employees working with criminal groups to gain access to company fuel cards.

Usually, the employee will directly hand over the fuel card or provide the bad guys with easy access to the company vehicle. The fuel card will be “stolen”, usually over a weekend when nobody is looking, during which time the criminals would have also quickly used the fuel card multiple times across multiple locations, and sometimes even filling up modified vehicles with extra tank capacity.

The employee will then report the theft well after the criminal activity has occurred, ensuring everyone involved makes a clean break. Only through exhaustive investigation will the truth be uncovered, and the losses hopefully recouped.

Pro tips for preventing employee fuel theft

1. Choose a fuel or energy provider that’s relevant to your data needs

Many don’t realise that access to clean, connected, and accurate data is incredibly crucial to curbing fuel theft.

When selecting a provider, make sure you ask questions like:

  • “Is the data collected owned by my company?
  • “Can I directly access the data myself?” or “What steps are involved in gaining access to the data?”
  • “Is access to the data free or at an additional cost?”

Ensure also that your chosen provider can supply you with accurate data to analyse further via products like Fleetyr or simply for your team to analyse internally.

Be warned — there are providers out there that don’t give the end user full access to the time of the fuel transaction. It may sound like a minor significance, but think about this: How can you do a location discrepancy analysis or provide accurate information to the authorities if you suspect fuel or vehicle theft?

Here’s what fuel location discrepancy analysis looks like in Fleetyr.

Fleetyr_Fuel Location Discrepancies

2. Do things right, right from the start

Ensure that when installing or onboarding new software/hardware, you do everything in your power to nail your onboarding.

Why? Because if you don’t understand the product you’re using, you’ve wasted time and resources getting it all set up in the first place. And by the time something bad happens (ie. fuel theft), it would be much harder to catch up to the situation (or in some cases, simply too late).

When it comes to fuel and energy providers, we would suggest:

Create Vehicle IDs or Asset IDs in the portal that match your other systems (e.g. telematics, fleet management platforms, etc.) to maintain consistency.

Doing this from the start means that Instead of manually combing through lines of asset data, your system easily looks them up for you.

Add “fuel tank capacity”, “expected fuel/battery economy”, and “fuel type” to your asset registry.

Doing this from the start means that If someone is filling up more than the tank/battery capacity of a vehicle, or if they have a pooer-than-average fuel economy, you’re likely looking at fuel fraud. Talk to us about our fuel dashboards that can help you with this.

Set up admin settings on your card via your fuel or energy provider.

Doing this from the start means that The fuel card is restricted to certain products, has a capped transaction spend, or is unusable on weekends.

Assign your fuel card to specific vehicles or assets, not to humans. Also, avoid shared fuel cards.

Doing this from the start means that Attaching your fuel card to a vehicle allows you to conduct fuel economy analyses and investigate fuel misuse and maintenance problems. Assigning the fuel card to a single person (or sharing it between multiple people) risks combining data from various vehicles, reducing the value you get from your data.

Please, please don’t make the pin for the fuel card the same as the last four digits of the card.

Doing this from the start means that You’re not making it so easy for thieves and fraudsters. We’ve found that most businesses still practice this because it’s “easy”, and this needs to stop. In addition, changing pins regularly or using app-based advancements that some providers offer can also help further secure your fuel cards.

3. Document, communicate and enforce a company-wide fuel misuse policy

Employees need to clearly understand the company’s fuel/energy usage rules.

We’ve seen many cases of fuel theft go unpunished by authorities. How is that possible? Simply because it was not formally documented anywhere that the employee could not use the fuel card or vehicle outside of business hours.

Yes, you read that correctly. The “I didn’t know the fuel card could only be used for the work car” excuse has actually been a winning defense method.

It’s up to your internal company policy to outline to employees the rules around fuel card and vehicle usage. Without this in place, any future misuse will tarnish your data and create anomalies in your fuel economy and location discrepancies.

4. Consider an employee mobility scheme

It may be a good idea to set aside a budget for staff that entitles them to personal mobility solutions, such as public transport credits, fuel vouchers, and micromobility solutions.

It’s a straightforward idea: happier staff, less theft. You’ll discourage fuel theft with the available incentives and options. You’ll also instil greater awareness around emissions, efficiency and alternate vehicle options. This ultimately also prevents further emissions from your company vehicles.

Concerned about fuel theft or simply want a better way to track your fuel? Book a free consultation.

Nadia Nyaz

Nadia is a marketing ops, brand and content specialist in the tech industry, with a personal interest in seeing how technology and creativity can intersect to create a more sustainable future. Connect with Nadia.