The increase in leisure travel as pandemic restrictions increase and a large number of rental cars have brought the criminals to the fore this summer, say consumer watchdogs.
The Federal Trade Commission as well as consumer groups and rental companies warn travelers about schemes that entice them to book fake bookings through fake customer service numbers and websites.
The problem is that rental car companies have been hampered in the pandemic, which first had to do with a sudden and prolonged drop in demand and now with an equally sudden increase in bookings. The result was higher prices and more challenges to book cars during peak times in popular tourist areas. This can make customers vulnerable to fake offers that apparently not only offer the car, but also at a seemingly more reasonable rate, said Emily Wu, an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission’s Department of Consumer and Business Education.
“There are far fewer rental cars available,” Wu said.
Recent complaints to the GAAP Fraudster Network and the Better Business Bureau describe similar schemes. In some cases, consumers did not realize they had been deceived before arriving at the rental counter to learn that there was no record of their booking.
The series can start when a buyer searches online for a general term such as ‘cheap rental cars’, said Amy Nofziger, director of victim support at the AARP Fraud Watch Network. They dial the number that appears in the search, and think it belongs to a legitimate rental company, but it turns out to be a fake.
The fake rental agency will usually insist that the caller make a reservation by paying with a gift card or prepaid debit card and say there is a special promotion or discount attached to the card.
Once the caller buys a card and hands over the PIN to the fake agency, the criminal can quickly convert the card into cash, leaving the consumer without the money or a car behind.
It can be hard to understand why someone would fall for such a trick, but criminals are skilled at playing people’s emotions, Ms. Nofziger said. People may not have realized that it is expensive to rent a car this year and are worried about finding an affordable vehicle and taking their family on vacation.
Complaints on the Better Business Bureau’s website indicate that the scam is involving unnamed companies and imitators posing as brand representatives. Reported losses range from $ 200 to $ 800.
One of the complaints, from early June, involved a call to a company pretending to be Budget. The consumer paid $ 280 on a prepaid Visa card. When he could not reach the number again – the line was repeatedly busy – he found and called the actual budget number, and he was told that no discussion had been booked and that he had to report the fraud to the authorities.
In late May, another complaint said a company that believed Alamo “allegedly pretended to rent a car for me just to take my money and stop answering the phone.”
“The end result is that the car does not always exist,” Claire Rosenzweig, chief executive of the Better Business Bureau, told Metropolitan New York.
Enterprise Holdings, which includes the brands Enterprise, Alamo and National, does not consider these matters’ general ‘, but has recent reports on a number of gift card issues,’ said company spokeswoman Lisa Martini in an email . Undertaking warned customers in March about the gift card scheme.
Enterprise only accepts prepaid cards as payment at the end of a rental and does not ask for payment information or card numbers over the phone, Ms. Martini said. Prepayment for a reservation may be an option, but it is never mandatory.
“A website that requires payment or asks for the purchase of a gift card, and must provide the card number and PIN, should sound the alarm,” she said.
Hertz ‘will also never ask you for prepaid card details by telephone, as these cards will only be accepted when you return,’ website say.
Here are some questions and answers about renting a car this summer:
How can I avoid a rental scam?
A requirement for prepayment with a gift card or prepaid debit card should be a red flag immediately, Ms. Nofziger said. “No legal car rental company will ask you to pay in advance with a gift card.”
If you are suspicious of a promotion, go directly to the official website of the rental company and find the customer service number. “Call the company directly to make sure the transaction is genuine,” the Better Business Bureau said.
When you rent a car, you should always pay with a credit card, Wu said. Credit cards provide protection if you are the victim of fraud.
The Federal Trade Commission also provides general tips for car rental on its website.
How can I get the car I want – affordable – for my vacation?
If your summer travel plans include a rental car, do not wait for the last minute. OutoSlash, a discount car rental website, recommends that you book your July 4th rental now.
People usually book a car at the end of the trip planning. But this year, travel experts recommend that consumers research prices and availability and book ground transportation first, or at least at the same time when buying a plane ticket.
You may need to be flexible with the type of car you rent, especially at popular travel destinations. Sedans can be more than minibuses.
Consider renting places outside the airport, which are usually cheaper. You may have to take a taxi or drive to the rental office, but the savings may be worth it.
Several membership organizations, such as AAA and AARP, offer discounts on rental cars. There is usually a membership fee, but it can be worth it.
If you join the loyalty program of a rental company, you can get discounts and can at least help you not to wait at the counter. Most basic versions are free to join.
Some businesses offer employees a corporate discount, even when traveling for personal use. Therefore, it is worth consulting your employer.
And if all else fails, it might be time to move on to your vacation destination with your own car.
Why are rental cars so little available?
When the pandemic took place last year, rental car companies had a sudden decline in bookings. In response, companies have sold large parts of their fleet and ordered fewer new vehicles by 2021.
Now people feel safer getting on a plane and getting out of the city. But the rental companies cannot increase their inventory quickly, in part because a shortage of computer chips is slowing down vehicle production. Car manufacturers are first concentrating on supplying retail markets as they make more money on cars sold to consumers.
This means that fewer cars are available to rent than usual as demand grows. “It’s a double whammy for the consumer,” said Neil Abrams, a veteran travel industry consultant. The situation is expected to last until the fall, he said.