Close-up of businessman receiving car keys from a mechanic at auto repair shop.

Don’t Get Sideswiped by Car Rental Scams

June 04, 2024

There’s nothing wrong with looking for a good deal on a rental car – as long as the company you’re renting from is legitimate.

Need to rent a car? You’ve probably looked online to find the best possible rate. While the internet has made it easy to shop around and find deals, it’s also led to an increasing number of rental car scammers who prey on budget-minded drivers.

According to the Better Business Bureau, rental car scams occur all over the country and have resulted in losses ranging from $200 to $800 per incident. Let’s look at how a rental car scam works, red flags to watch out for, and ways to stay safe.

How Rental Car Scammers Operate

Rental car scammers will create internet ads, websites, or emails that imitate a well-known national brand or promote a bogus car rental company. They promise amazingly low rates or special discounts to try to hook you. But you’ll find that instead of accepting a credit card to reserve your vehicle, they’ll ask you to reserve or pay for your rental using a gift card or prepaid debit card (and you must share your card number and PIN over the phone). Scammers love these payment types, which are difficult to track or recover.

But it’s a dead end. When drivers who fall for the imitation brand scam show up at the rental car company’s local office to pick up their vehicle, there’s no car for them to rent – and no record of their reservation. Worst of all, the money they paid is gone for good.

Watch Out for These Red Flags

Here are some ways to recognize a rental car scam:

  • You’re offered a steep discount if you pay for your rental upfront with a prepaid debit card or gift card. Scammers may claim their offer is part of a special promotion with a gift card company.
  • You see signs of website spoofing – like a website address that isn’t quite right. Criminals may imitate the websites of well-known brands to trick you.
  • The advertised rates sound too good to be true.


How You Can Protect Yourself

Now that you know what to look for, here’s how you can avoid being cheated by rental car scammers:

  • Be cautious of sponsored search results. This is especially true when you do an online search for cheap car rentals or similar terms. While most of these advertisements are from legitimate car rental companies, scammers can pay to have their ads show up in the sponsored ad section.
  • Do your homework. Look up the name of the company plus terms like “complaint” or “scam.”

When searching for a deal on a rental car, go directly to a car rental company’s site or look up their customer service number yourself. You can’t always trust search engine results.

  • Use a credit card to reserve and pay for your rental car. You can dispute credit card charges, if necessary, but gift cards and other forms of payment can disappear like cash.

 What to Do if You’re a Victim of This Scam

If the worst happens, take swift action:

  • Call your financial institution immediately if you’ve provided money or sensitive data.
  • If the scammer has impersonated a real company, alert the company’s support team.
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission at

When renting a car, it’s best to deal with a reputable car rental company, so you can hit the road with confidence. Remember these tips – and don’t let car rental scammers sideswipe your ride! To learn more about protecting your personal information or managing your finances, talk to your financial institution today.