The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a complaint a fuel card company and its CEO for allegedly duping customers out of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of “mystery fees.”
The FTC filed a complaint against Georgia-based fuel card company FleetCor and its CEO, Ronald Clarke for “charging customers hundreds of millions of dollars in mystery fees associated with fuel cards”, according to an August 11 news release from the agency.
FleetCor markets fuel card services under the “Fuelman” brand name in addition to co-branded cards.
According to the FTC, FleetCor falsely told customers that they would save money and be protected from unauthorized charges while using the company’s fuel cards, but in reality, “according to FleetCor’s own records, customers generally have not achieved the advertised per-gallon savings by using FleetCor’s cards.”
FleetCor has denied the FTC allegations.
In December 2019, the FTC filed suit against against FleetCor in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, alleging that the company had charged customers hundreds of millions of dollars in hidden and undisclosed fees. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the lawsuit in April 2021 after finding that the FTC incorrectly filed the suit under the wrong section of the FTC Act. The new lawsuit is filed under a different section of the FTC Act.
The FTC detailed the various means of alleged deception during the initial lawsuit in 2019:
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.
“FleetCor fleeced its customers out of hundreds of millions of dollars through its dishonest practices,” said Samuel Levine, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “The FTC will do everything it can to get money back to FleetCor’s business customers and unsuspecting fuel card users by refiling this complaint administratively. We will also continue to work with Congress on a broader legislative solution following the Supreme Court’s decision in AMG, which has hindered our ability to recover redress for families and honest businesses.”