Americans are on the move again now that COVID-19 lockdowns are lifting, and that has led to a shortage of rental cars. While real rental companies see a crisis, grifters see an opportunity to steal money from unsuspecting people and leave them high and dry without transportation.
This upcoming Memorial Day Weekend 37 million Americans expect to travel 50 or more miles from home, according to AAA. While that’s still 6 million fewer than pre-pandemic levels it still more than last year’s all-time low of 23 million. Those travelers are finding it harder and harder to book a rental car, let alone find an affordable one. The shortage in cars is due to rental car agencies selling off vehicles at the start of the pandemic. Now the industry-wide chip shortage is making it hard to buy fleets of vehicles as manufacturers are focusing on dealerships which are also experiencing pent-up demand. High-demand and low-supply are driving rental car prices skywards. Earlier this month we reported daily rates of $100 in Florida, $200 in Hawaii and $600 in Puerto Rico.
But anyone searching for a good deal had better beware, according to the Detroit Free Press, scammers are creating websites almost identical to legit rental car agencies, pocketing the money and leaving travelers without transportation:
The imposters can pretend to be connected to a big brand name — like an Avis, Budget or Enterprise. Or some online sites appear to be third-party car rental brokers.
You might spot a few clues, like oddly worded advertisements or requests that you pay for that rental car in advance using a gift card.
Those who have been scammed say they think they have a reservation but never end up with a car.
The car rental industry is seeing this “customer experience nightmare” take place more frequently, according to a report in Auto Rental News.
Enterprise has posted this alert online: “Enterprise does not issue or accept gift cards to secure a rental. Only pre-paid gift cards with a Visa, Mastercard or Amex symbol will be accepted at the END of the rental for payment; NEVER required at reservation and payment information is NEVER requested over the phone.”
Some consumers lost money when the scammers enticed them by offering a limited-time-only deal if you pay in advance by putting $300 or $400 on a gift card.
Don’t ever, and I mean ever, do business with a company that demands, requires or incentivizes using a gift card to pay for it. It’s an untraceable form of payment, and probably the easiest means for scammers to get paid.
Remember, in the land of capitalism your credit card is all that is required by legitimate companies. The Freep also recommends going to the actual website of rental car companies (looking closely to make sure you’re on a legitimate website) and looking for contact numbers there, as scammers can game search engines to get their phony number as one of the first results.