Bogus car rental damage claim? Cancel your credit card, change your email address

Here’s a novel idea for eluding a bogus car rental damage claim while you’re overseas: cancel your credit card and change your email address. That advice comes to us by way of reader William Muto, who used the strategy to fend off a fraudulent claim in Frankfurt recently.

Car rental companies and other merchants can retroactively bill your credit card, and often do. The best example of that is late charges that hotels add to your bill weeks, and sometimes months after your stay. Of course, car rental companies do it, too.

Canceling your card may seem like an extreme step, but Muto explains why he did it:

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We returned our car after a three week trip on time and were told to leave the keys and paperwork at a drop box unless there was an attendant, which was the case upon our return. We had gone over any problems prior to taking the car and we returned it in the condition in which we rented it.

About two weeks later we received a letter claiming that there was damage to the car in the amount of 800 euros.

I immediately canceled our credit card and asked our bank to send a new one with a different number. I emailed the Frankfurt Budget office and advised them that any damage was subsequent to our renting the car.

I inferred that they were trying to extort money from us two weeks after the fact and when we were back in the States, thousands of miles away. I also immediately changed my email address because of this scam.

I also called the Budget customer service representative in the US about the incident and while they were concerned, they indicated that the overseas operations were pretty much independently operated. I then went on line and read several horror stories about Budget and how they routinely cheat customers or abandon them when there are problems.

We are seasoned travelers who usually take lengthy car trips mostly through Europe, but needless to say we would never use Budget again and have told our friends never to use them.

Budget apparently dropped the claim.

This strategy is only likely to work under certain circumstances. First, I would only recommend using it if you were absolutely sure that the damage to the car was someone else’s fault. Second, it’s only likely to work in another country, where tracking you down would be more difficult if your email didn’t work and there were a language barrier.

And finally, there’s absolutely no guarantee that the car rental company won’t figure out a different way to collect the money, either through your drivers license (which has your mailing address) or through your passport or ID that it may have on file. So, no guarantees.

I find it unfortunate that car renters must resort to these extreme tactics to avoid fraudulent damage claims by car rental companies.

(Photo: kwer feldein/Flickr Creative Commons)