As more and more people hit the road this summer, they should avoid the look and feel of websites for rental car outfits that appear like potholes.
You might drive into town, think you’ve booked a rental car, and end up going nowhere.
Ah, the joys of reopening the economy in the COVID-19 vaccine era. Crooks can create a whole new bunch of ways to steal money. Now that everyone is looking for a deal – and perhaps facing a shortage of rental cars in some markets – scammers have found another way to get cash back to you via a gift card. .
The scam could turn out to be hot this summer as more people are vaccinated against COVID-19 and may be more willing to travel this summer.
Did you rent a car or not?
One consumer thought she had found a great deal on a car rental, paid for in full with a prepaid gift card, and thought she was ready. When she went to the rental car office at that airport, she found out that they could not find a reservation for her for a rental car.
No car, no way to get your money back.
Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network, said the consumer initially called the AARP hotline to complain that the car rental company had lost her reservation.
Nofziger, who took the call, said she had to explain that the consumer was hit by scammers who set up a bogus online site to mirror a rental company.
âYou never spoke to the real rental car location,â she told the woman.
Scammers know consumers will desperately want a better deal. And who isn’t worried if he’s been in a car accident or waited until the last minute to hire a car and can’t seem to find anything at a decent price? Setting up a fake website or fake customer service line can be an easy way for crooks to steal money.
Clifton Coleman Jr., 69, said he tried renting a car at a location near his home in San Diego when his 2005 Hyundai needed repairs after a car accident.
But this place didn’t have cars to rent. So he went online to search for âcheap rental carsâ.
He thought he had had a lot for seven days. He ended up losing $ 500 instead.
âThey scammed me,â Coleman said.
At first, he was told to put $ 200 on a Google Play card as a security deposit. He bought the card at a pharmacy. Then he had to put $ 100 on another card and another $ 200 on a third card.
He was to collect the car from the Alamo rental point at the airport. But there was a two hour delay, then two more hours passed and the car still wasn’t ready.
“He kept putting me off,” said Coleman, who retired after years of roofing houses as a member of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers.
âI said I wanted my money back,â he said. And that’s where the guy stopped taking his calls.
A “ customer experience nightmare ”
Imposters can pretend to be connected to a big brand – like a Review, Budget, or Company. Or some online sites appear to be third party car rental brokers.
You might spot a few clues, like ads with odd terms or requests to prepay for that rental car using a gift card.
Those who have been ripped off say they think they have a reservation but never end up with a car.
The car rental industry is seeing this “customer experience nightmare” happening more frequently, according to a report in Auto Rental News.
Enterprise posted this alert online: “Enterprise does not issue or accept gift cards to guarantee a rental. Only prepaid gift cards with a Visa, Mastercard or Amex symbol will be accepted at the END of the rental for the payment; NEVER required at Reservation and payment information is NEVER requested over the phone. ”
Some consumers have lost money when scammers lured them into offering them a limited time offer if you pay up front by putting $ 300 or $ 400 on a gift card.
A consumer in Staten Island, New York, reported a loss of $ 400 to crooks posing as a Budget rental car.
“I ended up talking to this guy named ‘Aaron Shore’ and ‘booked’ a car for the week,” according to the BBB Scam Tracker report.
By using an American Express card, the consumer would supposedly be eligible for a better promotional offer.
Here’s the catch: The consumer was then asked to purchase a prepaid American Express gift card. The representative asked for the card numbers, which of course allows the crooks to get their hands on the money.
Another consumer in Georgia had a car breakdown and searched Google Budget Rental, where an 888 number appeared. And again the guy said that American Express is running a promotion and recommended buying an Amex gift card to save money and qualify for the offer.
The punchline: no car and $ 300 out the window.
Scammers make you think they’re the real deal
Who would imagine that the customer service line you find online could be bogus? Most of us wouldn’t even think this could be true.
But last July, I wrote about a woman from Detroit who lost about $ 335 after working with what turned out to be a bogus customer service line for CashApp.
Instead of calling you, the crooks have found a pretty smart way to get you to call.
Of course, you could get an official reservation number. You might even have an agreed location where a car can be delivered or picked up for you.
The crooks might even try to run a second scam, as they did with the Georgian consumer when no car showed up at an agreed time and place.
When the consumer called to complain, someone else picked up the phone and said the first guy was busy. The consumer called back and another guy came over and said the first one was fired for doing something wrong.
The solution? Go to a store and call them from there so they can tell the consumer what type of card to buy to confirm another reservation.
âThat’s when I got suspicious and asked how they would keep my $ 600 without a car,â the consumer wrote. “And that’s when he hung up the phone and he won’t come through.”
AARP plans to highlight this scam in the June issue of AARP Bulletin magazine after receiving complaints this spring from several travelers about fake online customer service phone numbers that appear to be from a genuine car rental company.
Unfortunately, consumers need to take extra steps to verify that they are talking to a legitimate business.
In many cases, it’s best to go to a business website and scroll down to find a phone number to call. Don’t just try to search for a customer service number online and type in the first number you see.
And if someone starts asking you to pay for a car rental over the phone with a gift card, hang up.