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Report: Car Rental False Arrests Not Limited to Hertz

We’re sorry to tell you there’s a new chapter in the ongoing saga of people renting cars legally yet somehow being accused of vehicle theft anyway—a story Frommer’s has been following for a while now. 

According to a new investigation, the problem is even more widespread than it first appeared. 

Turns out Hertz isn’t the only car rental company reportedly prone to upending customers’ lives in this way. 

Late last year, Hertz announced that it was settling hundreds of claims—364 to be precise—relating to the company’s pattern of erroneously reporting rental cars as stolen when, in fact, the vehicles were not. 

Due to a toxic brew of flawed bookkeeping, technical glitches, problems tracking inventory, and a tendency to call the cops at the drop of a hat, Hertz had turned in numerous innocent customers, many of whom were arrested for stealing cars the drivers said they had lawfully rented.

For enduring that legal nightmare, the affected parties would divide up $168 million paid by Hertz and its insurers, per the settlement agreement. 

End of the road? Not quite. Last week, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Justin Phillips uncovered allegations and lawsuits involving false vehicle theft reports made by two more car rental giants: Budget and Enterprise. 

“During the past five months,” Phillips writes, “I’ve spoken with at least 10 people of color who were either detained or knew of someone who was detained because their rental cars were incorrectly reported stolen. It was almost always a result of clerical errors, and the traumatized renters were eventually cleared of wrongdoing.”

Phillips suggests that Black and Latino renters are disproportionately affected by the false theft reports, in part because people of color “are statistically less likely to own personal vehicles than white people and, therefore, are more reliant on alternative forms of transportation, especially during the holidays.”

One of those traumatized renters Phillips mentions was 77-year-old Anita Conley, who was arrested by armed police officers because, she says, Enterprise neglected to update her account to show that she was still paying for the rental.

Conley filed a lawsuit against the company in November. 

Around the same time, Budget, which is a subsidiary of the Avis Budget Group, got slapped with a similar lawsuit from Californian Chaniece Decoud, whose rental extension had likewise not been properly recorded. 

“They pulled me over in the middle of the exit with seven police cars and a helicopter,” Decoud told the Chronicle, adding that the experience made her feel “dirty” and “like an animal.”

Such incidents, along with the Hertz settlement, “should be a call to action for consumers to demand from these companies heightened scrutiny over their treatment of law-abiding customers,” Phillips writes. “Without true oversight or accountability, these companies will just keep using law enforcement agencies as their personal armed repo squads.”

Frommer’s reached out to Budget and Enterprise for comment, but we have not heard back from company reps. 

To minimize your chances of getting falsely accused of not returning a rental car, the rental price-comparison website AutoSlash recommends, first, obtaining documentation for every step of the rental process, including, crucially, getting a printed receipt from an attendant to confirm drop-off when you return the car. If you extend a rental, demand the company emails you confirmation of the extension. 

It’s also a good idea, according to AutoSlash, to take photos of the interior and exterior of the car, giving you some visual evidence of the vehicle in the return lot. 

Further proof that the car is out of your possession, AutoSlash points out, might include “security footage in the garage at the approximate time of the return” or an electronic record of the car being “subsequently rented out by other people since you last returned it.” Ask the rental company to check its systems. Then ask them to double-check. 

And be sure to monitor your credit or debit card account for any erroneous late charges or other fees from the rental car company, and dispute any charges that shouldn’t be there. 

Trust us: You don’t want to get caught up in this ordeal if you can help it.