We’re seeing a surge in leisure travel since the lifting of travel restrictions. Unfortunately, many car rental companies sold off substantial portions of their fleets during the height of the pandemic.
With the availability of rental cars at an all-time low, prices have skyrocketed. This has created an ideal opportunity for criminals to scam unsuspecting consumers.
The BBB Los Angeles & Silicon Valley is receiving reports of con artists impersonating rental car company representatives and tricking consumers into paying hundreds of dollars to rent a car that doesn’t exist. Read on to find out more about this scam and avoid getting scammed.
How the Scam Works
Scammers imitate rental car companies. They place ads on ad platforms like Google Ads touting “cheap car rental” or “affordable car rental” and similar terms.
If you click on the ad, you’re taken to a professional-looking website which often includes a fake “customer service” phone number (usually a toll-free number).
When you call, the representative explains they can help you and promise a discount if you pay upfront using a specific gift card or prepaid debit card. For example, they might mention they’re running a special promotion with Visa that requires you to pay using a prepaid Visa card.
Once you purchase the card and share the PIN with them, they quickly drain the money from the card. In some cases, they’ll try to convince you there is a problem with the card and ask you to buy a new one.
There are many variations of the scam, but it typically involves you making an upfront payment using a gift card or prepaid debit card.
How to Avoid Getting Scammed
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to avoid rental car scammers driving off with your money:
- 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 often 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 if possible and never pay with a gift card or prepaid debit card. You can dispute credit card charges, but gift cards and prepaid debit cards can disappear like cash. Once you give the number and PIN to a scammer, the money is gone.
- If a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If you know there’s a shortage of rental cars and that prices have skyrocketed, be wary of “special deals.” Why are they offering you a price that’s way below that of reputable car rental companies? It doesn’t make sense.
- Use BBB to research the business. If you’re not sure if you’re dealing with a legitimate business or if you’ve never used them before, search for them on the BBB website. Our website contains millions of business profiles and reviews. Make an informed decision.
- Be skeptical of unsolicited email offers. Legitimate car rental companies don’t send out spam emails. Don’t open suspicious emails, but if you do, don’t click on any links or call any customer support numbers. If the email appears to be from a well-known car rental company, visit their website and contact customer support from there.