This summer’s rental car shortage has scammers kicking into high gear.

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Now that many people feel safe to travel again, they’re eager to hit the skies or roads for a long-awaited vacation. Not surprisingly, demand for flights, rental cars and hotels has caused prices to spike. And the resulting rental car shortage has created crazy high rental car prices that could even be one of your costliest vacation expenses.

Meanwhile, scammers are eager to prey on travel-starved Americans with fake rental car deals. “A rental car shortage is causing prices to skyrocket, and scammers have found a clever way to cash in,” warns the Better Business Bureau (BBB).[1] “They claim to be able to get you a deal on your rental, but it’s really a way to trick you into paying hundreds of dollars for a car that doesn’t exist.”

Once you know these con artists’ tricks, however, you’re less likely to get taken for a ride by a rental car scammer.

Gift card and prepaid debit card promotions

When searching for a rental car company, be careful about clicking on the top search results. You may unwittingly click on a scammer website providing a phone number to talk with a “customer service representative” who has no association with a legitimate rental car company, according to the BBB.

The agent may claim that the rental car company is offering low rental car rates as part of a special promotion. The only thing you need to do to get the discounted rates is pay for the rental car with a prepaid debit card or gift card from a certain issuer and then share the PIN with the representative. Once you purchase the card and hand over the code, the scammer transfers the money, and you end up waiting on a rental car that never arrives.

Never pay for a rental car with prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Once you make payment using those cards, there is nothing you can do to get back your hard-earned money.

Imposter websites

You may think you’re on a well-known rental car company’s website, but the site could be just a knock-off created by a scammer looking to cash in on your desire to get out of town. Don’t take it for granted that a site offering discounted rental cars is legit, since search results that are ads can lead you to a phony website. Instead, look up the domain name on ICANN, a lookup tool where you’ll find information about the true owner of the website.[2]

If the information from the lookup is for a different company than the rental car company you think is offering low rates, search for the actual rental car company’s website. Then call the customer service number on the site to make sure the website you’re planning to book a car on is the official site.

Bad reviews or complaints

Before booking from a rental car company or travel site, perform a search for reviews and complaints to find out what other customers have to say. Type in “scam,” “complaints” or “review” so you can learn whether the company comes through on its promises or leaves its customers in the dust more often than not.

Rates too good to be true

When rental cars for a week at your destination are going for $600 a week but you find a website offering the same type of car from a reputable rental car company for $200, it’s probably time to back up and lock the doors on that deal. If you still think the discounted rate could be valid, call the rental car company directly to find out if the discount is available and then book the car rental directly with the rental car company if it is a true discounted rate.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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