January 20, 2012

Rental car scams

There have been a few media stories and emails floating around about rental car scams.  Most recently I saw a post by Old NFO and was reminded to share this story.

Mr Harper has been overseeing his company's El Paso market since last summer, traveling a couple of times a month to check on things.  He is a creature of habit and likes routine (as well as the extra miles reward), so he always rents his car from the same place. 

Two weeks ago we got a letter from the rental car company claiming $600+/- worth of damage to a rental car.  The tone of the letter was along the lines of, 'we are sure you have contacted your insurance company by now and here is the detail of the charges to fix the vehicle'.

I asked Mr H if he had the condition report from the rental, as my experience has always been that there is a document signed at the beginning of the rental and the end of the rental detailing any existing or new damage to the vehicle.  'There isn't one,' he said.  Huh?

Whether it was an assumption of trust or technological advances, Mr H explained that his experience with this company has always been a walk-around of the vehicle before and after, but no document or condition report.  There has never been any damage on check out or return, so the agent has printed out some sort of rental receipt and sent Mr H on his way.

Mr H called the representative listed on the letter asking for an explanation and asserting that there was no damage.  Well, guess what?  There is a condition report that is supposed to be filled out before and after - the company's SOP.  The rep emailed a copy of the damage report to Mr H - it was a lengthily hand-written statement of how the damage occurred signed by someone purporting to be my husband.  After seeing it, Mr H called the rep back and explained that he had never seen that document, nor any condition report like it and that the signature on the document was a forgery.  Forging my husband's signature is a little tricky because he does not sign his legal name.  Anyone simply signing the name from his credit card is easily tripped up.

Being a frequent customer, Mr H suggested to the corporate office rep that she review other records that they surely had on file, such as his rental agreements, and compare the signatures.  He further suggested that she research a little further and see if there were any condition reports routinely filed from that location, or if the only condition reports that existed were those for damaged vehicles.

Within 15 minutes, Mr H had a terse email reply telling him that he was absolved of all damage claims and that the matter was closed as far as he need be concerned.

It makes me wonder what the scam truly is.   Surely rental car porters across the nation aren't all such poor drivers that they are routinely crunching up cars in the rental lot and blaming the last renter.  I would bet there is a way for the local outlet to collect money from the corporate office and/or insurance and that these vehicles don't have any damage at all.

My advice mirrors that of the media.  Get a signed condition report on check out and return (and note every little smudge, windshield chip and door ding on check out).  Take cellphone pictures of the vehicle. 

In typical red-headed fashion, Mr H isn't completely satisfied with the company's resolution.  In a couple of hours he will be approaching the very same rental car counter to pick up this week's rental.  He wants to have a little chat with the perpetrators...

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