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Better Business Bureau warns drivers about scams amid a rental car shortage nationwide

Published: May. 10, 2021 at 7:56 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Whether you’re headed on vacation or just need a temporary set of wheels to get you around town, you need to be careful who you rent from.

It’s a new warning from our partners at the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad, as a rental car shortage plagues the country.

Rental companies sold a huge amount of their cars during the pandemic, and now drivers report it’s extremely hard to reserve a rental car at a reasonable price with a well-known company.

Sue McConnell at Cleveland’s office of the Better Business Bureau says scammers are taking advantage of that problem.

“I don’t think people realize that there is a shortage of rental car inventory. A lot of rental companies sold off a good portion of their inventories, and now people are starting to travel,” McConnell said.

James Romer says in December, he tried to reserve a luxury, exotic car in Miami Florida for a vacation he had planned.

He sent us screenshots of his conversation he had with a representative before sending a security deposit through an app.

“The first red flag that I really, really wish I had picked up on was the fact that he wanted payment through cash app,” he said.

He hasn’t heard back since requesting to cancel the reservation and get the deposit refunded.

“It’s hard when you can only go by the internet and you are a thousand miles away or whatever,” Romer said.

However, McConnell says scammers aren’t just hitting people in vacation destinations.

Recently an East Cleveland man reported to BBB he was scammed when he went online and Googled the phone number for Budget Rent a Car. He told BBB “I needed a rental car and called Budget Rent A Car from a phone number I located on Google. I arranged for the rental car to be delivered.” The man says he was told by the representative on the phone that he could get a discount if he paid the entire $300 security deposit with a Go Bank Visa card purchased at Walgreens. The man purchased the card and then read the scammers the information off the back of the card. When the car was not delivered as promised the next day, the consumer became concerned. He tried to call back his rental representative but the number went straight to voicemail. He called the real Budget Rent a Car that told him they don’t deliver cars.

“That’s when I knew it was a scam,” the victim told the BBB.

The BBB says other consumers have reported to bbb.org/ScamTracker that they were told to make payments via CashApp, Google Play Card, or American Express Gift Cards. Scammers claimed the payments did not go through and instructed the consumer to send an additional payment.

Consumers who use smartphones to search for rental cars can be served up geotagged ads leading them to sites offering rentals. These sites may not be affiliated with legitimate businesses and are often hosted overseas.

BBB offers these tips for renting a vehicle:

  • Pay by credit card - Beware of any company asking for alternative payment methods (such as a prepaid debit card or gift cards). Scammers prefer to use methods such as these because there is little recourse if there is a dispute.
  • Check BBB.org - Always check car rental company ratings with BBB to see if the business is reputable.
  • Double Check the phone number and URL - Googling phone numbers can often land you in the hands of an imposter. If you are making rental arrangements online, be sure you are on the company’s site and not a look-alike.
  • If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is - If you are shopping for deals, be leery of companies offering very low prices or a discount only available if you provide payment through a gift card. Research the company carefully and get all terms in writing.
  • Beware Aware of Insurance Fees - Check your personal vehicle insurance to see what kind of coverage applies in a rental car situation to avoid buying duplicate coverage from the rental car company.
  • Check Vehicles Thoroughly When Picking up the Vehicle - Check vehicles thoroughly for any chips in the glass, paint, or dings. These all should be noted at the time of rental to help prevent companies from trying to collect old damages on your account.Be Aware of Additional Fees - Rental car companies may charge fees on using additional devices, such as an E-Z Pass, on toll roads. Some of these fees may be as high as $25. Either forgo the E-Z Pass or the toll roads. Rental car companies may also charge a fee if the car is returned with a less than full tank. Consumers should also remember that “unlimited mileage” often does not pertain to out-of-state travel.

Romer hopes however that anyone in the same unfortunate situation as him will report it to authorities.

“It can be embarrassing, because you know after once I realized I’m probably not getting this money back I was like ‘ugh I just want to move on and not deal with it, but my advice would be not to take it lying down, because there are agencies that want to help,” he said.

You can report a local scam to the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad.

Consumers can also report suspected scams to BBB.org/ScamTracker. These reports help others avoid falling victim to scams. Consumers can also visit the Scam Tracker website to view the latest reported scams in their neighborhood or across North America.

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