Can you trust your credit card details with a rental car agency while you travel?
Consider what happened to me while renting a car from Dubai airport for a few days to photograph a tennis event in nearby Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Weeks after I returned a rental car on time, Thrifty Car Rentals at Dubai Airport Terminal 2 in January deducted more than 1000 dollars in erroneous charges from my VISA card without proof, explanations or proper replies to my requests by email and social media. This all happened after I returned the car in correct condition on time with a full tank, and Thrifty staff assured me that we had settled all payments. I kept all receipts, including this receipt of my payments after I returned the car at Dubai airport.
Over the next several weeks, Thrifty charged my credit card three more times for 23 dirhams, 1105 dirhams and 2210 dirhams, roughly equivalent to 1000 dollars. After I questioned them about these dubious charges, Thrifty did not reply to my emails for several weeks. Their social media response was late, erratic and incorrect.
Given the uncommunicative intransigence of this company, I suspected criminal fraud and immediately informed Scotiabank Visa and Expedia. Expedia, which originally booked my car rental, suspected the same thing, and they immediately refunded back to my visa account the original reservation amount of 90 dollars.
After investigating and considering my case for several months, senior management at Scotiabank, one of the world’s largest banks, also agreed with me.
Thrifty, however, has not yet refunded money which was defrauded from my credit card account. A Thrifty customer service agent on the phone said that Thrifty Dubai Airport Terminal 2 is a “franchise” of Thrifty, which is owned by Hertz. She directed me to Hertz executives, who promised to investigate the case. As of April 2018, they have not refunded the amount scammed from my credit card.
Rental companies such as Alamo have previously tried to scam this customer and others by taking advantage of dispute processes at banks and credit card companies which are dealing with thousands of complaints by millions of customers.
About 10 years ago, VISA investigated and punished a rental car company on a Pacific island that tried to defraud hundreds of dollars from my credit card while I was based as a journalist in Tokyo. Alamo in 2015 tried to take more than $600 from this customer’s credit card before realizing or admitting that another client had damaged a vehicle in a collision several days later.
Scotiabank, like other banks, has trouble dealing with hundreds of complaints from customers saying they’ve been scammed by rental car agencies. At first, Scotiabank and VISA didn’t reply to my emails for a week while I was traveling from Lebanon to Cyprus and Hungary. When a Scotiabank finally reached me by phone late at night at a Budapest hotel, a Scotiabank employee simply refused to investigate my complaint, saying that I wasn’t allowed to dispute charges if I gave them my credit card and PIN number.
Unsatisfied, I complained to Scotiabank by phone, emails, social media and their online banking site. I have blanked out my credit card number to protect my account.
Days later, another set of Scotiabank officers phoned me at a hotel in Morocco on January 26. They recorded the phone calls “for quality control purposes”. They promised over the phone to refund me in full. In order to do this, they said they had to cancel my US dollar credit card. This caused me considerable problems — and loss of money on exchange rates — while I was traveling the next 3 months in the Sahara desert area of Africa, Spain, the United States and Mexico.
After seeing my presentation of verifiable evidence, the Scotiabank officers on Jan. 26 agreed with my complaint. They told me that they had witnessed how Thrifty’s Twitter account was publicly deceitful towards me. Thrifty’s Twitter account repeatedly told me to email Thrifty Dubai — which I had been doing for several days with no reply.
The Scotiabank officers told me they had also spent time traveling or working in UAE and Africa. They were familiar with similar scams. They canceled my credit card in order to prevent further abuse.
Would Thrifty try to scam me if I was a journalist living in Dubai with connections to senior officials? Or did they take advantage of me because I was a short-time visitor flying out of UAE?
Here’s what happened. In late December I flew from Spain to UAE to photograph Serena Williams at a tennis event near Abu Dhabi. I first reserved a Budget car rental through Expedia, but I felt something strange about them when I arrived at Dubai airport. A man wearing a Budget cap was standing outside the arrivals hall, and he didn’t have an office on site. He said I would have to pay an expensive taxi ride to another terminal to pick up the car. He quoted me different figures than the original booking. I suspected he was trying to scam me.
I walked away from him and made a separate booking online through Expedia for Thrifty.
My booking confirmation with Expedia was H53043887A1 and itinerary 73187796439 for pick-up 12 noon on Dec. 30 at DXB airport.
The Thrifty officers at their customer desk also quoted me different figures than the original booking. They immediately tried to gouge me with extra charges above and beyond my original agreement through Expedia.
I was late for a tennis match at a stadium about 2 hours drive from the airport. I was in a hurry to go, and I was tired from the overnight flight from Barcelona via Kuwait to Dubai.
But it took me about 30 minutes to leave the airport parking lot. The parking lot attendants wouldn’t allow me to leave. In turns out that Thrifty also tried to make me pay an erroneous “parking charge” for the car, even before I left the airport. In order to leave the airport parking lot around noon, they wrongfully gave me a card stamped around 10 am (more than 2 hours before my pick up). I refused to pay this, and they then gave me a new card to leave the parking lot. I should have immediately realized that this company was deceitful and disrespectful of customers. But I was in a hurry to get to my photo assignment near Abu Dhabi. (In fact, the delays by Thrifty made me late for the match.)
That night in central Abu Dhabi, I couldn’t start the car. Fortunately, a local man helped me call police, who then brought jumper cables to start the car. They checked but couldn’t pinpoint the cause. We call Thrifty but they didn’t help.
On December 30, Thrifty emailed me a list of charges deducted from my Scotiabank VISA card.
A few days later on January 4, I returned the car on time at Dubai Airport with a full tank of gas. I honored all of my agreements with Thrifty.
Yet Thrifty added on 4 charges for toll fares, which they call “salik”, without proof of the tolls. (I drove on routes from Abu Dhabi back to Dubai airport specifically to avoid tolls).
I felt I had no choice but to pay these extras, and I was worried about wasting time and missing my flight from Dubai to Beirut on Jan. 4. I kept the receipts proving that my rental was finished, and that I had paid the bills, including their dubious extra charges.
Then a few days later, while I was in Beirut, I saw an email from Thrifty saying that they were deducting more charges for “rent”. I didn’t understand this, and they never replied to my emails seeking explanation. I could foresee no reason why I would have to pay a few dollars extra for “rent” of a car returned on time in proper condition.
I wrote them a complaint demanding explanations. They have never explained the reasons for this additional charge. This clearly shows their deceitful intentions.
Several days after that, Thrifty sent another inexplicable charge for “traffic fines” of 1105 Dirhams, about 300 dollars, more than the cost of my flight from Barcelona to Dubai via Kuwait. Thrifty did not respond to my emailed requests seeking explanation.
I immediately contacted VISA and Scotiabank reps again.
Then, several days later while I was in Africa, I received another email from Thrifty saying they had deducted 2210 dirhams, about 600 dollars, again for “traffic fines”. In other words, they doubled the amount. First 300 dollars. Now 600 dollars. I thought this was outrageous. It was clearly fraudulent use of my credit card details. They were using my Scotiabank Visa card as an ATM machine.
During my brief rental period in UAE, I only drove about 300 kilometers, and I didn’t speed. (An investigation into my driving record in Canada would show an excellent record without tickets).
I did some research in UAE press and found many cases of rental companies scamming customers.
What could I have possibly done to incur about 1000 dollars in extra charges by Thrifty? Thrifty would not tell me.
I would need about 10 or 15 speeding tickets in UAE in order to incur “traffic fines” more than 900 dollars. Thus, I suspected that this was clearly a scam by Thrifty to take advantage of a foreign visitor to UAE.
Expedia immediately agreed to refund me about 90 dollars, the total of my original booking. Expedia reps told me that they couldn’t even speak with Thrifty officers because Thrifty were not answering their calls or messages.
Expedia recognized this fraud, and immediately acted to protect the consumer.
If Thrifty are doing this to me, it’s likely they are doing the same to other customers, and this would require investigation and action by police, courts and government regulators. Here are some complaints posted online this year: