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Security & privacy

Renting a car? This mistake puts your data and money at risk

Going on vacation out of state or on a business trip, you sometimes need a mode of transportation. Ride-sharing companies are one option, but it’s more convenient to rent a car.

For the most part, renting a vehicle is done through a reputable agency or a recommendation of family and friends. But a recent rental car shortage might have left you empty-handed and stranded.

The rental car shortage has nothing to do with the global semiconductor scarcity used in making cars, but rather the global pandemic. Rental agencies across the U.S. shed thousands of vehicles over the past year. As the country opens, that has created a shortage of available cars. Now, scammers are pouncing.

Here’s the backstory

By always spotting an opportunity, scammers are seizing the moment to defraud victims of their money and personal information. Knowing that there is a shortage of rentals, scammers have set up fake companies and listed them online.

The cybercriminals have apparently boosted the search term rankings to ensure that the fake rental agency lists rather high in search results. When an unsuspecting victim enquires about available rentals, the scam is set in motion.

According to the Better Business Bureau, a “customer service representative” will explain that a vehicle is luckily available and will politely offer the victim a special deal. If the victim pays by gift card or prepaid debit card, they can get a steep discount.

But that is exactly the trick. The rental company is a fake and will make off with the untraceable money in a flash. When questions are raised, the representative will claim the company is working in conjunction with the card providers.

“You purchase the cards and share the PIN with the representative. In several reports, the scammer insists that the money didn’t transfer, and you need to purchase another card. But no matter how many cards you buy, the outcome will be the same,” the BBB reports.

How to avoid a scam

While it might seem obvious to some, never make payment for anything using a gift card or prepaid debit cards. No real company will insist that you use that method of payment and if they do it is probably a scam.

“They said there was a special deal with American Express to get the rate (normally much higher) and informed me to purchase a gift card to get the discount. Once I purchased the card and gave the code, they transferred the money,” reported one victim. The car never arrived.

Here are some other ways the BBB suggests avoiding rental car scams:

  • Use the contact information listed directly on a business’s website – Instead of relying on an internet search for customer support phone numbers (double-check the URL). 
  • Beware of sponsored links – Fake websites sometimes pop up in your web browser’s sponsored ad section and appear at the top of the search results. Be careful when clicking! Hover over the URL to be sure it’s the right one.
  • When in doubt, verify special deals directly with the company – If you are unsure about a promotional offer, get the customer service number from the company’s official website. Call the company directly to make sure the deal is real.

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