The travel troubleshooter

Charged for insurance I didn’t want

 

christopher@elliott.org

Q. 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. When we got to the counter, my friend offered them his debit card — it was all he was carrying — and an agent said they needed a credit card.

So I gave them my 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 his signature to accept the optional insurance. I asked him if he knew he signed for it and he said no.

Why would we agree to pay $260 for insurance when we have our own? On top of that, 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.

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 when you rented your vehicle. But I’ve heard your story before, and I know car rental agents are rewarded for “upselling” customers like you on optional, and highly profitable, insurance. 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. Think of it this way: They’re handing you the keys to a $30,000 automobile. They need some assurances that you’ll bring it back in one piece. The credit card imprint does that.

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. I know it’s difficult. When you see a bogus charge on your credit card, you want a resolution yesterday. But 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.

Read more Travel Troubleshooter stories from the Miami Herald

  • The travel troubleshooter

    An empty vacation package from Expedia

    Q: I’m writing you about our problems with a vacation package we booked on Expedia to Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

  • The travel troubleshooter

    Where’s the refund for my Air France ticket?

    Q: I’m a graduate student at the University of Texas and I was recently awarded a fellowship to conduct research for two months in Ibadan, Nigeria. Believing that I would be departing from New York and then returning to Austin, Texas, I booked the trip in two legs. However, knowing that this could change, I reviewed the refund policies for both legs carefully to make sure the tickets were refundable.

  • The travel troubleshooter

    Did Budget send me the wrong damage claim?

    Q: I recently rented a car from Budget in Nashville and returned it to New Orleans. It was in perfect shape when I brought it back.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK



  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category