Criminal gangs are systematically defrauding petrol stations out of thousands of pounds worth of fuel using bogus fuel cards, according to national press reports.

They report a warning by the City of London Police’s National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) that criminal gangs are taking advantage of the weaker security on corporate fuel cards which don’t have chip and pin technology.

The gangs hire long wheelbase vans, often using bogus credit cards, and then fill the back with large water containers.

They then drive long circular routes stopping off at almost every petrol station on the way to fill the maximum amount possible.

Most of the thefts have taken place on arterial routes into London, with Northampton and Milton Keynes the worst-hit areas.

Thieves regularly travel up and down the M1 and M40, as well as the M3 and M27, stopping off at major towns to visit every petrol station.

The NFIB says it is impossible to measure the exact scale of the problem but one company alone has reported losses of £400,000 this year.

John Unsworth, of the NFIB, was quoted as saying: “At the heart of this crime are fuel cards which are being exploited because they do not have the latest security technology.

“These criminals are pillaging one community after another, day in, day out. We need people to help us identify them.

“If fuel station customers or staff spot these vans and people acting suspiciously they should call the police immediately.”