The Seattle Times reported in 2021, a third of the rental cars in service before the pandemic were no longer available. Two years later, the lack of supply remains, causing prices to rise and customers to wait for vehicles.
Whenever critical shortages exist—be it concert tickets, merchandise and even rental cars—it presents an opportunity for scammers. Today, scammers are taking advantage of the critical rental car shortage to lure customers into fake rental car schemes that are hard to pass up.
WFTV.com News shares a story of a Vietnam veteran who needed a vehicle for a few days and received a call from what he thought was a major rental car company. He paid the company $365 for a four-day rental with a Bluebird AmEx reloadable debit card. But the car he rented never showed up.
He’s not alone. Many other consumers have had similar experiences.
BBB President Holly Salmons shares in the same article that 74 central Floridians have complained to their agency about rental car scams. She cautions that real rental car firms never demand payments through gift cards or reloadable debit cards and advises consumers to make sure they are dealing with a genuine company before paying anything.
Scammers often create sophisticated websites designed to lure in the next victim, according to Salmons.
The scam goes like this: Unsuspecting consumers searching for rental cars on their smartphone come across geotargeted ads through Google search, which link to multiple websites with “car rental” as part of their address. These websites “look just like the real thing,” Salmon says.
Although they look and feel like third-party car rental brokers portals, they have no affiliation with any genuine business. Customers can choose a car, decide how long to rent it, and choose a city, then submit their request. They quickly get a summary of the details sent to their email and are asked to pay for the rental using a prepaid card or debit card.
To help consumers better understand how these scams work, an Enterprise alert page suggests the following things point to signs of potential fraud.
- Typically targets individuals searching for a phone number to book a car rental, or to extend an existing car rental.
- Once the number is called, the most common theme is the offer of a time-sensitive promotion that can be taken advantage ONLY with a pre-paid gift card.
- Other offers have been detected within the scam, but nearly all involve asking the customer to buy a gift card or pre-paid card to pay for their rental over the phone.
Corporate security agents informed Auto Rental News that the websites are hosted by Godaddy with servers in Ukraine and India. All advertising is done within established Google ad formats, which ensures the advertiser is not violating any Google policies.
Both SIXT rent a car and Enterprise Holdings are aware of the problem, reported Auto Rental News in a previous article.
The agencies confirmed prepaid cards are not accepted as payment, especially not for a promotional offer. SIBBBXT’s FAQ section on its website lists accepted forms of payment, which include credit cards or debit cards, but not prepaid cards. Enterprise also does not accept prepaid gift cards or payment at reservation.
Both companies advise consumers to do the following to avoid falling victim to scams:
- Check out the company website for its list of acceptable forms of payment
- Never pay with prepaid gift or debit cards
- Book directly with the rental car company
- Use a licensed travel agency or OTA to book a rental car
- Do not pay upfront without checking the policy of the rental car agency first
Customer awareness of these scams is the first step in putting these scams to rest.
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