That ‘too good to be true’ rental car price you saw is probably a scam

May 24, 2021

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As if this summer’s looming rental car shortage isn’t stressful enough for travelers eager to make plans, scammers are taking advantage of the situation, using fake customer service phone numbers and low rental prices that seem too good to be true — because they are.

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The Better Business Bureau said in a scam alert earlier this month that its Scam Tracker, which logs reports filed by consumers with regard to nefarious business practices, was seeing cases of car rental fraud.

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The BBB is warning travelers to watch out for rental car scams this summer. (Photo by Kiyoshi Hikiki/Getty Images)

What is a car rental scam?

The BBB warned would-be customers about Googling rental company phone numbers or using ones listed in sponsored ads (the listings marked “ad” that appear near the top of search results). Sometimes those numbers aren’t legitimate and will connect you directly to someone trying to take advantage of your need for a set of wheels.

The organization also says shoppers should be highly skeptical of any special offers that require payment in the form of gift cards or prepaid debit cards, no matter what the “agent” on the phone might claim.

“The representative insists that the ‘deal’ is a partnership with the gift or pre-paid debit card provider,” the BBB alert says. “You purchase the cards and share the PIN with the representative. In several reports, the scammer insists that the money didn’t transfer, and you need to purchase another card. But no matter how many cards you buy, the outcome will be the same. The ‘special offer’ is a scam, and the rental car doesn’t even exist.”

Scammers will try to offer you a great rental car deal if you agree to pay with a prepaid gift card or debit card. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

One such report said the alleged agent, who claimed the rental car company had partnered with Amex, promised the rental would be delivered to the train station where the customer was waiting, but it never showed up.

Another report states that a phony representative, who purported to be affiliated with Enterprise, asked the customer to hang up, purchase the required cards, and call him back to share the PINs. The customer checked Enterprise’s website and noticed that the actual customer service number was different from the one they had used to call the fake agent earlier.

Although there are several credit cards that offer rental car perks — such as elite rental status, car rental insurance coverage or discounts for booking using your card — you will never have to purchase separate prepaid gift cards or debit cards in order to receive those extras.

Make sure the customer service number you’re calling is found on the company’s main website, rather than looking for the number directly via a search engine. (Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images)

How can I avoid car rental scams?

Here are some additional tips the BBB provided that can help you to avoid car rental scams:

  • Never make payments with prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Scammers prefer these payment methods because there is nothing you can do to get your money back. Remember, legitimate companies almost always accept credit cards as the primary means of payment.
  • Use contact information listed directly on the business’ website instead of relying on an Internet search for customer support phone numbers. (Always double-check the URL.)
  • Beware of sponsored links. Fake websites sometimes pop up in your web browser’s sponsored ad section and appear at the top of the search results. Be careful when clicking. Hover over the URL to be sure it’s the right one.
  • When in doubt, verify special deals directly with the company. If you are unsure about a promotional offer, get the customer service number from the company’s official website. Call the company directly to make sure the deal is real.

Related: How to avoid falling prey to the most elaborate travel scam I’ve ever seen 

If you do accidentally find yourself the victim of a scam and your personal information has been compromised, there are steps you can take, including filing reports with your credit card company, signing up for fraud alerts and closely monitoring your bank account and credit card statements.

Rental cars at STL airport
Rental cars are at a premium this summer, thanks to smaller fleet sizes and lagging manufacturing supplies. (Photo by Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Why are rental cars so hard to find in the first place?

At the beginning of the pandemic, demand decreased so much that many rental agencies had to sell off large portions of their fleets. Now that travel has somewhat rebounded, car manufacturing lags mean it’s nearly impossible for fleet sizes to increase quickly enough to keep up with demand.

Related: Can’t find a car rental? Here are 7 tips that may help

Featured photo by alexfan32/Shutterstock

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