Imagine if customers started showing up at your rental counter with a reservation confirmation — prepaid — and were ready to pick up their cars. Yet your agents couldn’t find them anywhere in your reservation system.
This customer experience nightmare has been occurring with greater frequency, though it’s no fault of the car rental company. It’s part of a scam that involves gift cards, and plenty of other business types are getting hit too.
The rental car scam goes like this: Unsuspecting customers searching for rental cars on their smartphones come across geotargeted ads through Google search, which link to multiple websites with “car rental” as part of the address.
The sites have a look and feel similar to third-party car rental broker portals, but they are not affiliated with any legitimate business. They have functions to select a car model, rental length, and city (the ad geotargets to the user’s location). When this process is complete, users click “submit enquiry.” Within minutes, a recap of the information appears in the user’s email inbox, though without further details on a specific car rental company or pickup location — the cars can’t be reserved online.
The sites appear legitimate, but with the telltale signs of a scam based on poor English grammar. This wording is found on the “About Us” section of one of the sites:
“Welcome to ‘car renting Carrentalone.com ‘ Traveling is a new experience that can transport you out of your routine to create memories withyour loved ones. So lazy-head get up from your bed, book a car and travel across. When you think of traveling conveniently, the ‘Carrentalone.com ‘ is there for you.
The mobile search ads also feature toll-free click-to-call numbers. When an “agent” is reached, users are told that “to get the special rate offered over the phone” they must go to a local retail store to buy a prepaid gift card, like an Amex or Visa card. They are told to call back and read the gift card’s PIN over the phone, after which point the scammers would provide a bogus rental confirmation number.
Auto Rental News has learned that corporate security agents have identified the sites as hosted by Godaddy from servers in the Ukraine and India. The agents confirmed that the ad format used by these sites is approved by Google, so the advertiser is not in violation of Google advertising policies. The sites have been flagged via GoDaddy’s abuse alert process, yet the sites still function as of March 9.
Another scam website lists accommodations, indicating the issue is broader than car rental. Indeed, the traditional bank wire scam has migrated into ones involving prepaid debit cards. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a bulletin on this type of scam. “And scammers love gift cards — it’s one of their favorite ways to get your money” the FTC says in the post. “These cards are like giving cash — and nearly untraceable, unless you act almost immediately.”
In Europe, this gift card scam is much harder to perpetrate, as new European Union compliance laws under PSD2 regulations require multi-factor authentication for all remote transactions, including gift cards.
Both Sixt rent a car and Enterprise Holdings are aware of the problem.
A Sixt representative confirmed that “any type of prepaid card is not accepted as form of payment, especially not to obtain a promotional offer. This information, along with all valid forms of payment, can be found in the FAQs section on our website and is clearly stated in our Rental Information. We recommend that customers always book with us directly or via a licensed travel agency or OTA to avoid falling victim to scams like this.”
Enterprise has updated its Forms of Payment page in its F.A.Q. with a warning to renters to never attempt to use gift cards as payment. Enterprise has also created a separate alert page for customers on the issue.
Enterprise issued this statement to Auto Rental News:
“We’ve seen similar gift card-related issues in recent months, with customers having reported patterns of googling for a car rental, finding and calling a phone number said to be associated with our brand [though it’s incorrect], and then being directed to purchase a prepaid gift card to pay for their rental over phone to receive a promotional rate. We do not accept prepaid gift cards, and we do not require payment at reservation in North America. We will not ask a customer for payment information or credit card numbers over the phone. Customer awareness of these types of scams is key and we want to help get the word out.”