Fuel cards hacked? Comdata warns of account thefts

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 4/26/2011

Truck driver Albert Yoshimoto received a phone call a couple weeks ago from Comdata, the fuel card service he uses for his San Antonio-based fleet.

“Have you been writing a bunch of $1,000 checks?” the voice on the other line asked. “They’ve cashed a bunch of them overnight.”

“They” turned out to be thieves who somehow learned enough about Yoshimoto’s Comdata account to write $12,000 worth of checks in one night, including several $1,000 checks

Hackers have increasingly targeted fuel card and checking service accounts used by truckers, several sources recently told Land Line Magazine. In an unscientific survey on landlinemag.com, users of Land Line’s news site indicated such theft is not unusual.

The recent web poll showed that 10 percent of respondents have had their fuel card/check processor hacked either once or “a few times, while 15 percent said they pay for diesel with cash.

In Yoshimoto’s case, he said $12,000 in checks was removed from his Comdata account overnight in late March. Two weeks before the money being taken, Yoshimoto was told that Comdata wouldn’t give him access to his online checks.

“My big beef about this is they knew there was a problem,” Yoshimoto told Land Line Magazine. “I had been with Comdata for 13, 14 years, and the way I feel, they just turned their backs on me. That’s how I feel. I ‘m suspecting that I’m not the only one, and there may be other people hit.”

Comdata acknowledges that its customers have been targeted by hackers – the company, however, disagrees that it is at fault.

In an interview with Land Line Magazine, Comdata Vice President of Risk Management and Compliance Freddy Ramirez said the company is working with law enforcement investigators, and said Comdata isn’t the only fuel card provider dealing with the hackers.

“This appears to be a group of hackers who have been targeting the industry as a whole,” Ramirez said. “We know it’s an issue affecting the whole transportation industry.”

Does Comdata have a weak link in the system?

“Absolutely not,” Ramirez said. “This is malware – a type of virus infecting some customers’ computers. That’s how the hackers have been able to access the customers’ credentials. With that, they’ve been able to gain access and do some financial damage.”

Comdata does not appear to be alone. OOIDA Member Tracy George, an owner-operator from Soldiers Grove, WI, was hit to the tune of $10,400 in April when his fuel card account through EFS Transportation Services was hacked.

Thieves cashed 17 checks using George’s account in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, he said.

“They had time to stop payment and didn’t,” George said. “I don’t average three checks a day, much less 17 checks in an eight-hour time span.”

George said he put the money in so drivers of his six truck operation could buy diesel, and have cash available for tire repairs or other road issues.

In the last few weeks, George has filed reports with authorities where the checks were cashed and his hometown. He’s spoken with the FBI, and said he’s been assured of little.

“I had no way of knowing how they got the information they got,” George said. “EFS is not trying to work with me on this thing.”

A spokeswoman with First Data, the parent company of EFS, declined to comment for this article. She said only that the company urges its customers to avoid malware by installing and updating anti-virus tools for PCs and removing login credentials from individuals no longer with the trucking company.

John Ewing, who develops business software through his Truckers Helper, said one of his customers had a similar issue with Comdata.

Ewing answered the driver on his www.truckershelper.net web forum by saying it was “much more likely that someone hacked into Comdata and got your login info,” than hacked into an individual computer and used it to only steal money through a Comdata account.

“It’s real easy for Comdata to just say it’s your fault, rather than accept responsibility,” Ewing told Land Line Magazine. But Ewing says what are the odds of a hacker going person to person and only stealing money from Comdata and not other accounts?

“Something about that just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The source of the problem isn’t clear, Ewing said, but fuel card companies shouldn’t allow truckers to be robbed blind.

“Where is the weak link?” Ewing said. “The weak link might be the truck stops. It might be Comdata.  I don’t know where it is but when you stop and think, how many credit cards are hijacked from single user computers? Just general credit cards?

“It’s really rare for a hacker to go into someone’s individual computer for anything other than sending out spam emails,” Ewing said.

Ewing isn’t the only one who has heard of issues with Comdata.

In the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Land Line Magazine, Overland Park, KS-based Brady & Associates law firm paid for an advertisement to ask truckers who buy fuel with Comdata or other fuel cards to contact them.

Drivers that use fuel cards “may already be the victim of fraud or identity theft,” the ad reads. “To learn more about our investigation of Comdata and fuel card fraud, call us toll-free.”

Brady & Associates confirmed this week that the firm’s work on these cases is still being developed.

For its part, Comdata urges customers to not click on web links sent by unsolicited and unknown email contacts, Ramirez said. The company also urges customers to customize their account settings to limit the number of transactions and dollar amount Comdata is allowed to process in a given time period.

“We do offer limits on every program we have, but some customers choose not to put limits on,” Ramirez said.

Trucking businesses and all consumers should always update their anti-virus software, and companies that have large dollar amounts in their Comdata accounts should consider obtaining insurance from a third-party provider, the company told Land Line.

“Comdata doesn’t provide insurance against these types of issues,” Ramirez said.

The $12,000 loss hurts, but Yoshimoto believes the stability and past success of his company will help him survive it.

Yoshimoto, who supports his family with his trucking business, said he’s tried to keep his children from worrying about the recent theft, though “they’re a bit more concerned than usual,” he said.

“We already got hurt,” Yoshimoto told Land Line. “I don’t want the next trucking company to get hurt, or the next owner-operator to get hurt.”

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