Don’t Let a Rental Car Scam Ruin Your Vacation
Depending on where you decide to go on vacation, renting a car may not have to factor in. Cities known to have adequate transportation, such as New York, San Francisco, or London make renting a car unnecessary.
Some places, though, Like Los Angeles, are a lot more fun if you get your own set of wheels when you visit. But be aware! No matter where you go, there are some car rental agencies that employ less than above-the-board business practice in an attempt to bilk a few extra dollars out of unwary customers. Below are a few common types of fraud that crooked car rental businesses are known to use.
The Upgrade Coupon Scam
Some car rental businesses will provide coupons or vouchers for a discount on a rental car, provided that you choose either a specific vehicle or a vehicle from a very limited selection. When the customer shows up and tries to turn in the voucher for their discount, the sales associate asks if they’d like to upgrade for a nominal fee (usually less than $10 a day). If they upgrade, they can choose any car on the lot and ride in both style and comfort. Not wanting to miss out on an obviously good deal, the customer agrees to the upgrade, only to find out weeks later in their credit card statement that they were charged several hundred dollars for the vehicle. “The upgrade coupon scam is an old trick, but it’s still making its way around the car rental industry,” says Ken Collis, founder and CEO of TLK Fusion Marketing. “If and when the customer calls the company looking for an explanation, they’re told that the increase in fees was due to things like an airport recovery fee, or the vaguely-worded “road assurance” charge.” None of these charges are mentioned at the point-of-sale, but they’re usually hidden in the fine print of either the ads or the rental car contract itself.
This form of fraud is usually noticed while the customer is returning the vehicle to the car rental place. “What happens is the customer shows up to turn in the keys to the vehicle and ends up getting a bill for a higher price than they were expecting,” says Ken Collis. “When the customer asks about it, they’re told that the vehicle was returned later than agreed upon, and therefore the extra charge was incurred.” Sometimes, there’s no information about a late fee anywhere, but more often than not there’s a small sign posted in a weird place, or fine print in the contract that’s difficult to read.
TLK Fusion Marketing advises their clients to always read the fine print and, if it’s too small to read, to ask for assistance. It’s also a good idea to take a look around the business and try to see if there are any signs posted explaining the company’s policies. Sometimes these signs are nowhere near the front desks, so it’s important to look all over.
This scam is particularly insidious as it’s very difficult to prove and often ends up as a “he said/she said” situation in the eyes of the law. It occurs when a customer returns a rental car and, low and behold, during the inspection one of the employees of the rental company finds some sort of damage to the vehicle. The damage is usually minimal and often hard to spot. Sometimes it’s in a difficult to access part of the vehicle. “Whenever a rental company finds a seemingly inconsequential scratch, dent or damage that they try to charge you for, alarm bells should be ringing in your head,” says Ken Collis of TLK Fusion Marketing.
“They should be ringing especially loud if they’re trying to charge you an exorbitant repair fee.” Damage like this is usually so difficult to notice that one would almost have to be looking for it in order to see it, and that’s where you need to start asking questions.
Some car rental places will go even further than a scratch on the exterior or interior of the vehicle to try and scam their customers by having one of their technicians do something to the engine of the vehicle to either stop it from running altogether, or have some sort of issue with it that they can then try to charge you for.
The lifeblood of a rental car company is in the quality of their vehicles, and most above-board companies will only keep late-model vehicles in stock, and they keep them in top-notch condition because a reputation for shoddy vehicles will sink them quick. That being said, if a vehicle that’s been running beautifully while you had it suddenly stops working, odds are something is going on.
The Mandatory Insurance Fee
Last but not least, some shady business people love to commit the fraud of the mandatory insurance fee. They’ll tell you that in order to rent the car, you need to pay the mandatory insurance fee in case something happens. Since you know that insurance is a legal necessity (at least in the US it is), you agree and pay the fee. What you don’t know is that major credit card companies including Visa, Master Card and American Express already have auto insurance incorporated with them. Visa, for example, will reimburse you an amount up to the actual cash value of the vehicle rented, provided the person whose name is embossed on the card was the primary renter of the vehicle.