A multi-million-dollar oil fraud scheme involving at least 9 companies in New York City made headlines last month when it exposed rampant corruption in the heating oil industry. An investigation found that oil vendors routinely overcharged buildings for fuel deliveries by tampering with equipment and falsifying or destroying records.
“The indictments accuse the defendants of stealing and reselling roughly $34 million worth of oil that was never delivered, though officials said the fraud was most likely far more widespread and more costly to the city.”
–The New York Times
Unfortunately, a common lack of oversight makes it easier for dishonest vendors to get away with this. Unless maintenance professionals keep (and keep track of) their own data, they become easy targets for swindlers.
Trust, but verify.
Some buildings have automatic fuel level reading sensors which would alert them to any issues, but many buildings can’t afford those expensive systems. Here are a few things that any building can and should do to avoid getting ripped off:
- Work only with reputable vendors. You may end up paying a little more, but as the old adage goes, “the cheap man pays twice.” Plus, life’s too short to work with vendors you can’t trust. If you’re new to the building, ask neighboring buildings that you trust for recommendations.
- Record fuel levels daily. Not only will this help you catch the bad guys…it will give you insight into your rate of fuel usage. Is your usage high, low, or normal compared to what you expect based on weather or past usage? This is also a great way to catch inefficiencies and diagnose other problems in your building (but I’ll save that for another post).
- Take photos of your delivery tickets. A paper trail is an invaluable tool in the fight against fraud, but those thin paper delivery tickets can disappear faster than your oil in the middle of winter. If you take a photo as soon as you get it, you’ll have it available for quick reference anytime you need it. They can come in handy if you ever need to dispute an invoice from a delivery company or compare delivered amounts to actual level measurements. (We recommend that LogCheck users use their app to take a photo of these receipts so that it will be automatically stored right alongside your readings for easy retrieval.)
Fuel oil fraud in New York is nothing new, and unscrupulous companies have been forging proper deliveries for over fifty years. The methods to prevent these frauds aren’t new either, but modern tools make them so easy to perform, you really don’t have a good excuse to be taken advantage of anymore. If you take a more proactive approach, you can be an integral part of putting these scammers out of business, once and for all.