What Do You Do When a Big Company Tries to Swindle You?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Posted in category Uncategorized

You fight back on a level where you can win: intellectually, or with a fierce desire to not be ripped off.

For most companies, it is obviously in their best interests to bring in new customers and treat them well enough to turn them into return customers. In the free market, poor customer service usually means that you can pick up and go to the nearest competitor with a better product or service. Bad service happens, and it’s usually not intentional. A company is then wise to make up for bad service by extending the customer some sort of courtesy – a credit, bonus service, or other token to soften the blow to the customer who received poor service or a bad product (except in the domestic auto industry). Usually, the future benefit of such actions will exceed the immediate cost.

I recently had the most surreal experience with Thrifty Car Rental. I have always heard about the swindles from various car rentals companies, mostly when they try to “double-dip” on damages, meaning they will charge, and collect from, more than one customer for the same damage repair. It is evil, but remember that the assumption is always made – and it is often correct – that generally, most people are too stupid and inept to properly defend their interests. A little strong arm goes a long way in our public-schooled populace.

I had a flat tire in a Thrifty Rental vehicle, and what ensued is rather remarkable. I followed the advice of someone in customer service, and turned the vehicle in with the spare on and without fixing the flat – because I was in strange, rural territory, rushing back to Salt Lake City to catch a 5am flight in the morning. I fully expected to pay the cost of the flat. So I was billed one month later – $190 for a new tire, $40 for a “loss of use” fee, and $50 for an “administrative fee” so they could pay for the costs of sending me a scary-looking letter, threatening to send me into collections if I did not pay the amounts listed (almost $300) immediately. There was no justification for the new tire – just pay it. The letter was what most people would consider to be very “threatening” and overt, and it was from the very “scary” Subrogation Management Team LTD. Of course, the threat to “send me to collections” was stated more than once in the letter. These people making the decision to handle situations like mine, in this way, know that the majority of folks receiving this letter will write out a check and pay it – out of ignorance, fear, and sometimes laziness. It’s easier, as they know, for most people to just pay it and make the thing go away. The numbers – in terms of claims collected – will tell them that these letters that are sent out and order the full-on press are an effective means to pressure people into paying up without question.

Then they sent one of their bold and unfriendly, threatening letters to me. Mistake.

I was super busy, so I didn’t get to it as quickly as I had planned. Thirty days later I got the follow-up notice from Global Collection & Recoveries, LLC , and it stated that I was off to collections if they received no response or formal dispute within thirty days. So I had to take an hour out of my stressful and long work days to address this nonsense. I really despise wasting time on defensive maneuvers. I especially hated this case since this vehicle was already causing me issues before the flat – issues which I put on record with a few friendly phone calls to Thrifty before the day of the flat. But I was feeling spunky and sarcastic one Sunday evening, so I sent the following letter to the collector at Global Collection & Recoveries, LLC, and I cc’d the person in charge of the claim at Thrifty Car Rental.

In response to your letter, I hereby dispute the validity of this claim (#TH 88110 SLC).

Car rental companies are known to make outrageous claims against their customers and then try to fleece them through the various means available to them. Unfortunately, most people are too timed and/or too ignorant (along with being powerless) to stand up against these companies and protect their interests. As a Certified Public Accountant who spends a fair amount of time handling the business matters and financial dilemmas of private persons, I dare to say that Thrifty has chosen the wrong person to bullyrag in this particular case. As a person who has at least one credit score – out of three – above 800, I am not the type of person to walk away from bona fide responsibilities. Additionally, I will not stand by and allow you to try and destroy my credit with your baseless claims over a tire and preposterous administrative fees.

I rented a Ford Explorer and on the last full day of my vacation I ended up with a flat tire near Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. A friend, who is a reliable farm mechanic, tried to change the tire and could not do so. The reason? The wheel was completely rusted onto the frame and it could not be removed. Since I was out in the middle of a rural area, a few calls to the nearest tow shops garnered me prices of $120 and up to come out and get the wheel off, and change the flat. The Explorer had almost 30k miles on at the time, and it was clearly visible that the tire had never come off the vehicle, meaning that the simple maintenance act of tire rotation had never been performed. It is obvious that Thrifty Car Rental is not too concerned about maintaining its vehicles. The rust was spread throughout the entire wheel assembly and the hub where it attached, and this kept my mechanic friend from getting the tire off. The car was only a 2009 model. I am told by my friend that this rust is a common occurrence in the Salt Lake City area, and regular maintenance is needed to prevent the rust and “caking.” Thrifty clearly performed no such maintenance or ever rotated the vehicle’s tires in its 30,000 miles (tire rotation recommended every 6,000 miles).

I made a few calls to Thrifty customer service, explaining the problem. Those calls should be logged. That shows that I made the steps to correct the problem. I asked them what procedure they wanted me to follow to get this taken care of, and I thought I followed them as explained to me. Eventually, my friend used some industrial farming solvents and special tools to get the tire off – 6 hours later! – so he could save me the $120 road service. I lost a half-day of my vacation, and I had to immediately get back to Salt Lake City before dark to make my flight early in the a.m. I drove using the spare tire from Mesa Verde to Salt Lake, with no additional spare. Within a month, Thrifty sent me a threatening letter trying to bully me into paying for a brand new tire (not a flat repair), with absolutely no justification for purchasing a new tire. Thrifty did not have to purchase a new tire, though I am sure they could ask the tire shop to give them whatever substantiation they need. I would be happy to be billed for, and pay for, the flat repair that I could not make because I was in a strange place that was mostly rural, and I had no time to look for a tire repair shop off the highway.

Thrifty’s intent became clear when I noted, from its letter to me, that they were charging me – in addition to a new tire – for “loss of use” ($39.99) and, outrageously enough, for an “administrative fee” ($50). This is where the malicious purpose becomes a bit obvious perhaps? At no time did I receive a phone call, an explanation for the new tire, or otherwise. They also claimed that the “flat tire cover” for the rim was missing. It was not. To insure it would not fall off while driving, it was placed, by me, right next to the flat tire in the rear of the vehicle.

Now here’s another tidbit in my car rental drama. One day 2 of my rental, the “change engine oil” light started blinking at me, making noises, and claiming “it was time for an oil change.” Each time I started the car the dashboard warning system went through the routine. On Day 3, a different indicator came on claiming “OIL MUST BE CHANGED NOW.” This light remained for the entire time I had the vehicle. It not only came on when starting the vehicle, it also flashed on approximately every 15 minutes *while driving*. These indicators are set according to recommended, pre-determined mileage levels and the warning system can only be changed by a mechanic with proper access (or by changing the oil). I dealt with these flashing, noisy indicators for many days.

When I called Thrifty about the flat I also mentioned this problem, and asked for a credit to my account due to the inconvenience and my lack of confidence in the vehicle. Thrifty had managed to not perform the very simple maintenance act of changing the oil on the vehicle, leaving me with an unreliable car for almost a full week. Add this to the fact that the tires were never rotated and the wheels were rusted solid to the frame. I have friends in Colorado that are witnesses to these events. And Thrifty is trying to gouge me for $90 in made-up fees, along with the cost of a new tire?

Feel free to bill me for the flat repair, and I will gladly pay it. The flat needed to be repaired, indeed, but the new tire was Thrifty’s decision. I talked to my State Farm agent and he has said he will look at covering the cost of the new tire *if* proper justification can be made, with all proper documentation. If they want to pay based on your justification, fine. However, I will not pay you for a tire that you replaced so you could bill me for your unnecessary (new) purchase. Additionally, there will be no payment for an “administrative fee” or “loss of use” fee. In return, I’d like to bill you for my “loss of use” (approx. 6 hours), and I think that would come out to about $90, so it’s a wash.

I apologize for the lengthy letter, but the proper case needed to be in writing for your presentation. P.S. – Please feel free to read this story about Thrifty double-dipping its customers for so-called damages. http://www.elliott.org/blog/are-car-rental-companies-double-dipping-on-damage-claims/

I really enjoyed writing this – perhaps too much. I mailed this on Monday morning and was fully prepared to engage them head-on should they dare to deal with it. On Friday afternoon, I received a phone call and recognized the lady’s name as the gal spearheading the collection for Global Collection & Recoveries, LLC. She said, “Miss DeCoster, has anyone called you yet about your claim?” I said, “No Ma’am, I just mailed it a few days ago.” She said, “I am calling you to inform you that we will not pursue the claim. This claim has been closed. Would you like a formal acknowledgment of this?” I said “Yes, send it to my email address….”

Ha! Take that you scoundrels. The whole thing was a sham, and the $90 in added fees really gave that away. My message is this: as often as I hear about peoples’ horrible experiences with being threatened, bullied, walked-on, and beat up (and I am not talking about bona fide deadbeats), I know few people who look the monster in the eye and challenge it. Remember that many companies conduct a lot of bad business, and they always will, and that’s because they know that only a small number of people on the receiving end of their bully tactics will respond with a fight. Those who do respond are often deemed more trouble than the pursuit is worth, so they move on to the next sucker.

Don’t be a sucker. Take the time to let them know you are not going to be one of their victims.

Be Sociable, Share!
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 Responses to What Do You Do When a Big Company Tries to Swindle You?

  1. Johnathan says:

    January 27th, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Ah, were I able to respond to more professional bullies like the IRS, State Franchise Tax Board, or City Revenue Department with such eloquence. Alas, it would likely land me in jail.

  2. Jeannie Queenie says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Karen, with this economy the scammers are out there bigtime. Like you, yesterday I had to take precious time to go to my local bank after receiving an overdraft notice in the mail. I never have overdrafts, and like you my FICO score is in a high zone.
    So I checked my checkbook and saw that I still had a $240 balance. So into town I went aggravated that once again, some jerk was taking up my time over something I didn’t do! Long story short, the week before i went to the bank with two checks, one for a commissioned painting .the other check was from Capitol One….a rewards check for $66 for 2009. I cashed them, but did not put them into my ck acct.
    Unbeknownest to me, they changed their rules a year ago, and took those checks and applied them against my remaining ck book balance, thus making the few small checks that cleared into negative territory. This racked up three fees of $25 each. THere was no way this gal was going to pay for this nonsense, so like you I stood up to them and the $75 was taken off. I learned something new about this experience. The check that was given to me by an individual for a painting cleared in two days, however the other check drawn by Cap One/big bank, took five biz days to clear..and this is what threw me into the red side of the ledger. I would think that a check written by an individual would be more suspect than one sent by a hugh bank, but ’tisn’t the case..they go by routing numbers. Then over a month ago, Vanguard investments sent me a letter claiming I owed them $85. I found that strange for five years ago I closed that acct and moved my Roth to another firm. I called them and gave them the old one two also, and got that amount removed. It seems that desperate times brings these companies to try desperate things, but if you are on the ball, they can’t take it away from you if you have truth on your side. Over a month ago I got a letter from the town hall asking me to fill out a business form. So I am thinking, I have a business I don’t know about? Off to city hall again to question them why I must fill out a form for a business. Her reply, “well, Jean, we have your business card” as she pulled a looseleaf off her desk and opened to a page where she had it in plastic. I had totally forgotten that many months before I had put out little cards in an attempt to drum up business for wall murals, interior decorating, and other artwork. I never got any calls for folks don’t have extra money for boosting the quality of life now, but never thought of myself as having a business. When I explained I never got one call, she told me I wouldn’t have to fill out any forms then. Strange thing is that this was for property taxes…in short if I had done any artwork I would have had to give a dollar amount for supplies/tables, etc. Did find out at town hall that they have a nazi biz card gal that goes around town picking off business cards tacked on bulletin boards in grocery stores, etc. Only in America~The following isn’t your topic today Karen, but it is nevertheless one that is near and dear to your heart. It is a gem of a video 8 minutes long..not sure if you’ve seen it yet or not but to view it go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0nERTFo-Sk
    This is a rap video which is simply hilarious as well as informative on the Fear of boom or bust, the summary of Keynesian vs. Austrian economics. Whoever put this together did a great job, and gathering by the comments that follow the video, most folks really appreciated this terrific ditty on Austrian economics.

  3. Michael the Artist says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 12:50 am

    Stupid Thrifty. I thought you were an Enterprise fan, Karen?

    Those other 2 entities you were dealing with–do you think Thrifty just sold the debt to those guys for pennies on the dollar and they were just trying to seek a profit? I got a letter years ago from one of those businesses about an years-old internet service debt I allegedly had and failed to pay. I did some research on the Net on how to deal with this, and eventually sent them a “cease communications” letter–they can either file a lawsuit or stand down. They stood down, because lawsuits aren’t worth their while when there’s easier prey out there.

  4. Karen De Coster says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Michael, you are sharp! I am an Enterprise person. But I couldn’t resist this because Thrifty had one of those super deals – a Ford Explorer for about $25/day(!), and it was great to have that in the places I was traveling out west. But my guess is that all the car rentals do this. Another business that used to do this is……magazines. I got a couple of “subscription payment” threats a few years ago (to mainstream garbage I never ordered), and the idea is that you will react to the collections notices and pay them. My parents got several of these over the years, and my Dad, even though he hated govt, finally called the Bureau of Consumer Protection!

  5. Karen De Coster says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 7:03 am

    Jeannie, all banks (even local) are pulling this crap. I have people telling me nightmare stories of bounced checks and charges. My only words: stick to a local credit union!

  6. dean says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 11:08 am

    GMAC tried a similar scam on a lease return. They claimed damage on the vehicle (which had been sitting in the dealer parking lot a week before the ‘third party’ assessor could look at it). They even produced pretty little pictures showing the damage. I asked if I could send someone out to have it assessed by someone of our choice, but the vehicle was sold off to some other organization. I told them their claim was baseless, and that there was no way we were going to be bullied into paying for damages on a vehicle that had been sitting in some lot for a week before being assessed, and we no longer had access to. They let it go. I haven’t had any issues with lease returns since.

  7. David Phillips says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Great post, and good for you for slapping them down. We can all wish that more people would do so, and companies would learn that good customer service will earn dividends, and poor service loses revenue.

    May I offer one minor nitpick? I would guess that the wheel was rusted to the hub, not the frame. If it were rusted to the frame, the wheel couldn’t turn.

  8. liberranter says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Karen, in re your advise to Jeannie, even local credit unions are starting to scam like their big bank competitors. Our local credit union here in Tucson has slapped my wife with $30.00 “overdraft” fees on her checking account at least once a month for the last four months, not because she overdraws her account, but because the credit union CONTRACTS THEIR DEPOSIT COLLECTIONS AND PROCESSING OUT TO A THIRD PARTY AGENCY, one that is apparently universally tardy and careless in processing deposits, sometimes taking up to TWO WEEKS! Having discovered this disturbing fact the other week, my wife has changed her depositing strategy (CASH, ALWAYS, and at the teller’s window – early twentieth century style!) until we’re finished paying off the loan later this year that is the only reason we still do business with this sorry excuse for a credit union and can close our accounts. (Unlike the credit union we did all of our business with back East that we have been members of for twenty-five years and that treats us like royalty, this local credit union we’ve been with for the last two years has been nothing but a hassle since day one, and has imposed fees for the most bizarre and outlandish of things that we’ve never hear of anywhere else).

    Maybe grandma and grandpa’s distrust of banks and their practice of keeping all of their money in cash in an iron box wasn’t so crazy after all.

  9. cousin lucky says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Oh the memories of rip-off battles with many proffessonals, companies, and government agencies during my 65 years of life are very numerous. I ended up in court ( and won both times representing myself ) against the City of Boston!
    One was for the way overboard ” estimated water bills ” that I refused to pay! The second was about a defective traffic light that caused my car to be totaled. ( I went and took slides of the light being green for the street I was driving on and no red lights showing at all for the lights for the cross street. ) My car was hit broadside by a speeding Buick 225 and thrown high into the air and when it came down a metal fence post went through the full gas tank and was sticking out of the trunk. The fence was to a church parking lot.

    The pastor told me about the churches long time efforts and the members futile efforts to get the light fixed and he testified after I had shown the slides in court. Needless to say the judge ” blew a gasket ” and screamed at the lawyers for the City. Boston had to come back to court to prove that the light had been fixed and they had to pay for both of the cars.

    I have had ” beefs ” with doctors running ” mills ” ! A Best Western that billed my Visa card three time for the same overnight stay. etc. etc. etc.

    It is very good to know that there are other ” Principled People ” still left in this country that do not lie down or bend down for these rip-offs!! You Betcha!!!

  10. Karen De Coster says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Liberr, I agree that many credit unions have become (and behave like) like banks. But many with old-fashioned business practices still exist. At least, they are still in the majority.

  11. M. Terry says:

    January 28th, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Good answer, Karen. In the past I’ve helped people deal with bogus collection matters. You handled it wonderfully. Where many people get into trouble is when they ignore these kinds of notices, whether or not they believe them to be valid.

    Anyone dealing with a collection agency should Google the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. (FDCPA)

    The FDCPA gives you the groundwork for procedurally proper collection actions, and how to dispute them. I’ve found that few collection actions I’ve ever dealt with are proper.

    Good video link, Jeannie.

  12. For a good laugh says:

    February 25th, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    I just thought that you may find this piece of information interesting… Subrogation Management Team and Global Collections are owned by the same family and they are even housed in the same building. When they threaten to send you to collections, they are just sending the file down the hall to a different person so they can assess more fees.

  13. Sandra Doran says:

    July 23rd, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    SMT is doing the exact thing thru a thrifty rented ford focus in indianapolis with the exact same amounts! American Express Claims service paid all but the loss of use and adminstrative fees because SMT failed to provide them the required documents. The big bold red letter sending me to collections arrived if I didn’t pay the remaining $49.92. Hey SMT why don’t you come into the 21st century, give your chickenshite claims reps an 800# so I can call them not on my dime or an email address rather than the only communication via snail mail. The 210 area code fax number didn’t pick up outside business hours. Can you say SCAM? I have a credit score approaching 800 so do not even try to tarnish me SMT.

  14. Todd S. says:

    August 12th, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    About 10 or 11 years ago, I received a notice from a collection agency claiming that a $30 check I had written to Babbages for some software had bounced. I knew this to be false because I had a copy of the cancelled check that had already cleared my CU account (the CU included copies of all checks with the monthly statement). Not to mention that my account balance had not fallen below $1000 for the entire month.

    I called the CU to tell them of this, and the first thing the customer service rep said to me after I explained it to her was “Wow, that’s weird. I just got off the phone with someone who had the exact same problem”. That should be an indicator to them, but it wasn’t. After telling me that, she told me there was nothing the CU could do. I informed her that the collection agency claimed to have the original check – sent to them by the CU. She said that something like that could not have happened – despite the fact that it had happened at least twice in one day apparently.

    This left me dealing with the collection agency on my own. I faxed in copies of my bank statement showing the check clearing as well as copies of the check with the cleared stamps on it. I did that twice. Still they called back. Finally I mailed them copies of the same information via certified mail. They still called back, until I finally blew up on the phone and told the guy that I had sent them the information multiple times and that if he called again I was going to explore my legal options. They never called back.

    I no longer do business with that CU either.

Leave a Reply