The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it has filed suit against a fuel card company for alleged deceptive practices and hidden fees that they say cost truckers millions of dollars.
On Friday, December 20, the FTC announced that it had filed a lawsuit against Georgia-based FleetCor in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
FleetCor markets fuel card services under the “Fuelman” brand name in addition to co-branded cards.
The FTC said that FleetCor “charged customers at least hundreds of millions of dollars in hidden fees after making false promises about helping customers save on fuel costs.”
The suit accuses FleetCor of falsely promising truckers that they’d save money by using their fuel cards, with no fees or up-front set up costs or membership fees.
The FTC outlined the various means of alleged deception in a news release:
According to the complaint, the defendants often have waited to begin charging many fees until a few billing cycles have passed, making the fees harder to detect among a customer’s monthly bill fluctuations. The complaint also alleges that FleetCor’s invoices often have failed to disclose that any fees were being charged, requiring customers to proactively view other account management reports. Even on those documents, many fees have been obscured among other information.
The FTC alleges that the defendants also have not posted customer payments when they were received. That has led to even more fees, including late fees for on-time payments and “high credit risk” fees, because the customers ostensibly had paid late. The defendants have charged some customers “high risk” fees for being in the trucking and transportation industry, even though FleetCor’s primary customer base operates in those very industries.
In addition, the defendants’ promises about stopping unauthorized charges also have proved untrue, according to the complaint. While the defendants have advertised FleetCor’s cards as “fuel only” cards, cardholders have been able to purchase any item sold at fueling locations, including beer and snacks.
The complaint alleges that FleetCor’s own terms of service have said customers would have to pay charges even if they were outside the limits placed by the customer. Internal company emails called the practice “…the most egregious customer impact we do as it takes customers by surprise (unless they’re really large) based on their experience with consumer cards.”
The complaint alleges that customers generally have not achieved the advertised per-gallon savings by using FleetCor’s cards. To support this allegation, the complaint cites FleetCor’s own documents, which show that customers’ average savings on fuel have fallen far short of the defendants’ marketing promises. The complaint also alleges that an analysis requested by Clarke in response to negative press coverage about these marketing practices showed that, on average, customers have saved a fraction of a cent per gallon—far less than the 5-10 cents per gallon frequently touted by the defendants. In addition, the fees charged by the defendants have exceeded any savings otherwise obtained using FleetCor’s cards.
The lawsuit accused FleetCor of violating the FTC Act’s prohibitions on unfair and deceptive acts and practices.