As you may have experienced on a recent vacation, and as The Extra Mile recently reported, there is a rental car shortage across the country. To fund operations during the pandemic, car rental companies sold off a lot of their inventory. Unfortunately, now they are having trouble buying new cars due to manufacturing delays. This has left rental lots empty and prices high for the remaining vehicles, a perfect combination for opportunistic scammers to take advantage of. Therefore, when searching for your next rental car, be aware of offers too good to be true.
Too Good to be True
For the foreseeable future, there simply won't be cheap rental cars available. If you find an inexpensive offer, it warrants a level of suspicion. A review of complaints sent to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) found that scams may be presented by "impersonators posing as representatives of brand-name outlets" or using no-name brands.
Odd Methods of Payment
Scammers have been reported to talk about promotions tied to specific payment methods. The scammer requires travelers to pay with gift cards or pre-paid debit cards. The Federal Trade Commission advises against this and has issued a warning to consumers to "pay with a credit card if possible." Unfortunately, "once you give the [gift card] number and PIN to a scammer, the money is gone."
Enterprise's website warns consumers that pre-paid gift cards are only accepted "as a form of payment at the end of a rental." Gift cards cannot be used to reserve a car. Also, note that Enterprise, like other companies, "will never ask you for credit card or other payment information over the phone."
HOW TO AVOID SCAMS
According to reports, most scams seem to be taking place by consumers calling bogus phone numbers. So, either just book your reservation online or be sure you find the correct phone number to call.
When searching online, be mindful of the first few search results presented to you. Above the results you want will often be sponsored links at the top of the search page. If clicking on one of these, the BBB advises you to "hover over the URL to be sure it's the right one."
Alternatively, you can book using a trusted online travel agency portal such as those offered by AAA.
If you really think you have found a good deal, verify it. Call the verified number of the car rental agency directly and confirm that the promotion really exists.
IF YOU'VE BEEN SCAMMED
If you were scammed, help other deal-seeking travelers to not fall into the same trap. Report your experience to the BBB's Scam Tracker. You can also report fraud directly to the FTC.
If a scammer has already taken your money, contact the bank or issuer behind your method of payment. Report the fraudulent transaction and get the card issuer's guidance on the possibility of retrieving your funds. The FTC published a chart to help you figure out who to contact depending on the specifics of your situation, which can be viewed here.