It’s a Catch-22 — while car rental companies have more technology at their fingertips than ever before to mitigate fraud and theft, the criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in response.
Whether it’s a technological solution or a do-it-yourself operational control, five operators share a wide range of security problems they’ve faced and the steps they’ve taken to solve them.
We’ve kept the names of the operators and companies anonymous to allow them to speak freely.
Caught on Camera
A franchisee in Michigan has experienced several security issues throughout the years, including theft of vehicles and even his building’s air conditioner. But these problems have spurred him to come up with ways to prevent future losses.
To help reduce vehicle theft, this operator added GPS tracking units to every rental car in his lot. “When the GPS units went down to $100 to $200 apiece, I decided it was cheaper for me to do that than anything else,” he says. “I had some vehicle losses, and after doing the math, it doesn’t even come close to how little it costs to install GPS.”
Not only does the GPS allow him to track his vehicles, it also gives him the ability to turn off the car when the vehicle is parked. When the renter inevitably calls complaining that the car died, the operator will negotiate with the renter to pay the fee — without telling the renter how the car shut down.
To keep a better eye on his property, this operator installed a security system. With 10 cameras surrounding the building, the premises are monitored on video by the security company every night from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m.
The system cost about $6,000 to install and the monthly monitoring fee is $49. Trespassers are met with a recorded voice on a loud speaker, warning that the police have been called.
In one instance the security tapes helped the police nab two men who broke into the operator’s building and stole two cash drawers. “The suspects wore T-shirts from their company, and the video resolution was good enough to identity the writing on their T-shirts,” he says.
Catching a Parts Sales Scam
A van rental operator in California has seen theft by customers and employees. He discovered that one of his mechanics was purchasing parts on the company’s behalf and then selling the parts to other local mechanics.
“We found out about three weeks into it because suddenly these parts arrived and we didn’t have a purchase order for them,” he says, explaining that an invoice normally has a matching purchase order number. The mechanic ended up stealing about $3,000 to $4,000 in parts.
As one routine check against vehicle theft, this operator asks customers for a current residential address as a condition to rent. But this isn’t always foolproof.
One customer had a proof of address and supplied all the needed information, but he still stole a van. “We started contacting him and found out that his phone was disconnected,” he says. “Then the credit card didn’t go through.”
This customer was eventually found by police on the side of the road, sleeping in the missing van. Because the van was reported as stolen, the police arrested the man and returned the van to the rental company.
Once it is evident that a customer has disappeared, this operator will contact an asset recovery specialist (a “repo” company) to try to track down the customer and missing vehicle.
Because of the lag time before he can report a stolen vehicle to police, the repo company helps him track down the vehicle and driver sooner. “A repo company is expensive for its work, but it’s about trying to recover my asset,” he says. “They are good at getting the vehicles back and are more diligent to find out more information, like a private investigator.”
Depending on how much investigation is involved, his repo company has two levels of pricing, from a few hundred dollars for light research and a few phone calls to $500 or more if the repo company has to physically visit different addresses and track down other information, says the operator.
A Simple Plan
A small franchisee in upstate New York faced issues securing his vehicle lot. One morning when arriving at the office, he was shocked to see a Pontiac Grand Prix up on cinder blocks. “Someone had stolen all four tires and rims,” he recalls.
A week or two later, he noticed several antennas were stolen from his rental cars.
At the time, his vehicle lot had no fences or security system in place. Not wanting to pay for security guards, he contacted a friend with knowledge of security systems. The operator installed a security system that is triggered by motion detectors, which activate lights and a camera recording and send an alert to his phone and computer.
The system cost $2,100 installed, and there is no additional monthly fee. The operator says that in combination with the motion-detected light the video quality is good enough to make a positive identification of a potential wrongdoer. On the lot, the light illumination is enough to scare away most would-be criminals, he says.
Since installing the surveillance system and placing stickers on the building’s back entrance to warn of a security system, this rental operator hasn’t experienced further issues with vehicle theft.