Rental Customers Claim They Were Falsely Accused of Car Theft

Senator demands answers and inquiry into Hertz allegations

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A member of Congress is demanding Hertz fix what he calls “reckless practices” as some customers say they were accused of stealing the cars they rented.

“I’ve used Hertz for many years,” said customer Pat Calhoun.

He couldn’t believe his eyes last fall when his rental car was towed away from his California home by a Hertz repo man.

Rental car towed by Hertz repo man

“Knocking on the door, saying, ‘I want the keys or I’m just going to take the car and charge you for the keys,’” Calhoun said.

The whole mess started when Calhoun needed a long-term rental because his car was in the shop for repairs. He said the car manufacturer arranged a Hertz rental with an open-ended contract.

“They were putting a hold on my credit card every day. So, they had a valid credit card, as well,” he said.  

But a month into that rental, Calhoun said he got a text from a Hertz investigator claiming he failed to return the rental and they had the option to pursue him legally. Three days later, he said, they came and towed it, anyway. They then sent Calhoun the bill.

“It was a charge of $1,000 for the repo man,” he said.

Calhoun considers himself pretty lucky. Other Hertz customers have complained of being arrested because Hertz mistakenly reported their rental cars stolen. Others said they had warrants for their arrests long after they returned the vehicles.

“It’s about as shocking as it can be,” said attorney Francis Malofiy, who said he represents more than 200 Hertz customers who faced a charge of theft. His firm has posted several testimonials online including Howard Junious.

“I was in jail 60 days,” Junious said. 

He said he did not steal the car and the rental was fully paid for.

Court records show he was arrested and accused of “embezzling” a Hertz rental that he said his car insurance company arranged. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charge again Junious.

Malofiy said his clients’ cases show that when Hertz lost track of a vehicle, it would sometimes just report it stolen rather than look for it.

“The harm is real – and enduring,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

He sent a letter to Hertz’s CEO calling his company’s recordkeeping “abysmal” and demanding he address what the senator said are “grievous shortcomings.”

“We are demanding Hertz do the right thing here,” Blumenthal said. 

Now he’s also asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the allegations against Hertz.

“The combination of Congress, the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission. We will resort to any action available, both civil and possibly criminal, because this company has to do the right thing,” Blumenthal said.

In response to the letter, a Hertz spokesperson said, “We take these matters seriously and are reviewing.” 

The spokesperson added: Hertz cares deeply about our customers, and we successfully provide rental vehicles for tens of millions of travelers each year. Unfortunately, in the legal matters being discussed, the attorneys have a track record of making baseless claims that blatantly misrepresent the facts. The vast majority of these cases involve renters who were many weeks or even months overdue returning vehicles and who stopped communicating with us well beyond the scheduled due date. Situations where vehicles are reported to the authorities are very rare and happen only after exhaustive attempts to reach the customer.”

Appearing on CNBC to talk about something else, Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr took a question about this.

“Hertz is going to deal, properly, with people who were affected,” he said. 

He didn’t give specifics, but noted, “We have changed our policies to avoid the possibility of this happening. And, I think, to put context to it, if you look at the several hundred people impacted, we engage in 15 million transactions a year. This is one one-hundredth of a percent of those transactions.”  

The company has until April 14to respond to Blumenthal’s letter.

 As for Calhoun’s incident, a Hertz spokesperson said in a written statement: “We are still researching this, but it appears there was some miscommunication between the body shop that was initially paying for the rental and our location around the contracted dates of the rental and payment, which caused the vehicle to go into overdue status and triggered our recovery process. We have reached out to Mr. Calhoun to resolve and refund the towing fee.”

“As a consumer I did everything I thought I could do,” Calhoun said.

Make sure when renting a vehicle – especially long term – to ask specific questions about whether extending the rental each week is necessary. Also, keep all paperwork and email involving the rental.

Reported by Susan Hogan and Chris Chmura, produced by Rick Yarborough, shot by Carlos Olazagasti, and edited by Steve Jones.

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