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Rental Car Scams

Low inventory means high prices — and an increase in rental scams.

I rent a vehicle once a month. I’ve seen quotes for the rent of an economy-size car as high as $2,500 for five days. FIVE days — at a price nearly four times more than my car note!

The reason is inventory is low for program vehicles. It’s harder for rental companies to get their hands on cars, trucks and SUV’s due to supply chain droughts. There’s a shortage, so the prices are going up. That means more of us are going online, looking for rental car deals anywhere we can find them.

That’s where the scammers are lurking.

“If you suddenly find an available car at a cheap price, you might be dealing with scammers looking to cash in on the rental car shortage,” said Emily Wu, attorney for the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Division of Consumer and Business Education. “Scammers are posing as rental car companies, setting up their own websites, and advertising fake customer service phone numbers, all to convince travelers they’re legit. Then, they’re asking people to pre-pay for the rental — with a gift card or prepaid debit card.”

No legitimate rental car company will ever ask you to pre-pay with a gift card or prepaid debit card.

To avoid these rental car scammers, Wu suggested these:

  • Research the rental car company by searching for the name of the company and words like “scam,” “complaint,” or “review” to check if other people have had a bad experience.
  • Verify deals with the company directly. If you need customer support, look for contact info on the company’s official website. Don’t use a search engine result. Scammers can pay to place sponsored ads in search results, so they show up at the top or in the sponsored ad section.
  • Pay with a credit card.  Never pay with a gift card or prepaid debit card. You can dispute credit card charges, but gift cards and prepaid debit cards are unsecured credit — basically cash. Once you give the number and PIN to a scammer, the money is gone. 

Jon Linkov of Consumer Reports wrote the best take on renting vehicles that I ever read. His highlights:


Instead, shop the travel sites Orbitz, Expedia and Kayak. Linkov also said you should consider

“Another choice you’ll see is to pre-pay (on credit card) with your booking or pay the day of pickup,” Linkov added. “Pre-paying can net a big discount, but check the cancellation terms. You want to be able to back out painlessly if your plans change—or you find a better deal.”


“You might get a big break, perhaps as much as 50 percent off, by renting downtown, or in a suburb, rather than grabbing a car at the airport,” wrote Linkov. “One possible option, if you go for an off-airport deal, is to check out the cost of a one-way rental. This is where you drop the car off at the airport on the return leg. That may give you the best of both worlds.”


Linkov said AAA and AARP offer discounted car rentals to their members. He also recommended checking with wholesale clubs like Costco and with your credit card issuer. Many consumers don’t realize their credit card companies may offer auto rental discounts as card benefits.

Linkov also wrote that weekend rates are typically the most competitive. Renting at a weekly rate may also cut the cost.

Remember I said that I rent monthly? Like Linkov, I also score a discount every time I rent.

Here’s how: I sought out a direct relationship with the manager of one of the legitimate rental car company’s suburban offices in the area where I rent. First-name basis. I requested that I email that manager each month with a reservation request. In return, I assured the manager I would not deal with any of the company’s competitors. The manager gets me the lowest rate possible every time. No haggle, no hassle.

And no scammer trying to dupe me in the middle of a rental car drought.

Copyright 2021 Wise ChoicesTM. All rights reserved.


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