Once again: Read the contract

  • By Christopher Elliott
  • Wednesday, August 21, 2013 1:42pm
  • Life

Question: I recently rented a car from Avis in Houston, Texas, with a friend. A few weeks after we returned the car, I discovered a $260 charge for optional insurance that we never asked for. I need your help getting a refund.

Here are the details. We had pre-paid for the car using Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” service, which covers the entire cost of the rental.

The agent refused my friend’s debit card. So I gave them my credit card. Before I handed it over, I asked if it’d be charged. The agent said no.

After coming home from the trip, I found out I was charged $260 and wonder where this amount was coming from.

We looked at the paperwork from Avis, and that’s when I saw my friend’s signature to accept the optional insurance.

Why would we agree to pay $260 for insurance when we have our own? Also, the $260 charge went over my credit limit and now I am paying $200 for minimum payment instead of just my regular $20 minimum payment. Please help me.

Jenny Tran, Los Gatos, Calif.

Answer: You and your friend appear to have experienced the “sign-here” scam. That’s when someone slides a contract — and more recently, an electronic pad — in front of you and asks you to initial or sign it.

Two ingredients are essential to the scam. First, you have to be made to feel rushed, which is pretty easy when there’s a line of other customers behind you. And second, you have to receive verbal assurances that your signature is just a “formality.”

Was this a scam? I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. But I’ve heard your story before, and I know car rental agents are rewarded for “upselling.” At the very least, this was a misunderstanding.

It’s not unusual for a rental agent to ask for a credit card. Car rental companies need a valid card, just in case a customer damages a car.

They need some assurances that you’ll bring it back in one piece.

You should have read the contract. I know you probably realize that now, but it merits repeating. Read. The. Contract.

Had you done that, you would have noticed that your friend was signing up for optional insurance. You could have fixed the problem then and there.

Once you saw the charges, you should have written to Avis, not called. Why? Because you’re creating a necessary paper trail so that, in the unlikely event you need to forward this to the Texas insurance commissioner, you would be able to prove that you went through all the correct channels to get this resolved.

Patience can be a powerful and effective tool to get this kind of car trouble fixed.

I contacted Avis on your behalf, and it has offered you a full refund.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “Scammed.” Read more travel tips on his blog, www.elliott.org or email him at celliott@ngs.org.

© 2013 Christopher Elliott/ Tribune Media Services, Inc.

More in Life

From Jasper to Banff: A Canadian adventure in an RV

Jennifer Bardsley plans to take her family on two-week roadtrip through Canada in a tent trailer.

Skippers share sea stories at Marysville speaker series

The Bellingham couple will talk about charter cruises on the historic wooden vessel they rebuilt.

Anxiety, or chronic worry, is a growing problem

Paul Schoenfeld shares four approaches to help keep your anxiety from getting out of control.

Expo in Stanwood can help you get ready for the country

The Country Living Expo and Cattlemen’s Winterschool is set for Jan. 27 at the high school.

Find many of our region’s winter birds in the Skagit Valley

If you love birding, also check out these bird-related festivals, lectures and other events.

What’s new this year for travelers in England, Ireland

The nations are improving tourism infrastructures and adding exhibits to well-known sights.

Curries continues home-cooked Indian cuisine at new location

The restaurant, now located on Evergreen Way, also puts an Indian spin on Northwest cooking.

‘Three Billboards’ wins top prize at Screen Actors Guild Awards

Director Martin McDonagh’s dark morality tale beat out “Lady Bird,” “Mudbound,” “Get Out” and “The Big Sick.”

2018 Nissan Rogue crossover gets set for autonomous driving

New features including ProPILOT Assist are added to Nissan’s best-selling model, the compact Rogue.

Most Read