Taken For A Ride?
Date Added: June 13, 2002
Tales of bad customer service experiences are common on the 'net. Unfortunately, the lure of Armchair Activism is strong and these cautionary tales often turn into e-petitions or boycott chains.
Subject: Car rental scam warning
We have just been the victims of a particularly bare-faced scam run by EUROPCAR. It operates as follows (full account further below; this is the bare plot).
* You book car for agreed price, pick up at airport, use it, and return it on time to unattended desk [this is the warning sign].
* They bill your credit card with a whopping, unnotified surcharge.
* You complain; they say you returned the car four days late.
* You complain again; they look into it and insist it was late BUT if you can prove you caught your flight they will credit you.
* You provide the proof; they then go quiet on you and refuse requested confirmation of credit.
* When your card account arrives, there is a credit but it is 74.17 EUR short.
* You complain again; they have gone on to Plan B, which is to pretend you failed to refill the tank (though you have already thought of this and pointed out you have proof of fuel purchase).
* You demand the amount be credited, they go quiet on you again, you issue an ultimatum, and hey presto the credit is finally made, unadvised; the whole thing has taken two months, and hours of personal time.
THE ACTUAL STORY
In March we booked on line a car which we duly picked it up at Le Havre airport. Our journeying around Caen was incident-free, and five days later we returned to Le Havre, refilled the tank, and drove to the airport to return the vehicle at the time and date appointed. This time the EUROPCAR desk was not manned, though it was during their advertised opening hours.
(This is the first, and necessary, part of the scam: you get no receipt, but simply post the keys and completed return form through a slot: your warning, did you but know it, to keep every piece of paper connected with the car and the flight home.)
Less because of that, however, than because I had read about hidden extras arriving with the credit card bill, I e-mailed EUROPCAR on our return and asked them to confirm that the final account would be for the contracted inclusive total of 337.83 EUR. They replied that there would be a 63% surcharge as the station at Le Havre said the car had been returned 'later than booked'.
Hoping this was a simple mix-up, I pointed out that we had caught our flight that evening and could prove it. French customer services (M Hamelin, you know who you are) now stepped in to say that Le Havre insisted the car had been returned four days late - but that if we could fax him proof of catching the flight he would credit us (just like that!). I did: air ticket plus taxi receipt London City--home (with request for confirmation the overcharge would be credited).
After that (12 April) EUROPCAR ignored all further communications. We found out why on 29 April, when the card account revealed the credit had been made, but less 74.17 EUR. A strongly worded note to our M Hamelin - the word 'fraudulent' now inevitably coming to mind and hand - elicited the incredible explanation that they wanted a second bite at the cherry: they must have forgotten to mention it earlier, but the latest charge was for 'refuelling service'. Good thing we paid by credit card to refill the tank. M Hamelin would enquire; if the station did not respond we would be credited 'automatically'. By now it was clear he was going through a familiar and practised routine.
And so it proved, in that as before he now ignored all further communications. Only by phoning the credit company at the beginning of June did we find that a credit for 74.17 EUR had been made, without advice, on 28 May; over two months after we hired the car. At no point did we receive an apology, and only once in passing was there even the vaguest pretence that all that happened was done in error.
The moral of the story: never use EUROPCAR, and when you hire a car, keep all receipts etc, including boarding passes, especially if you have to return it to an unattended desk.
Richard Abram and Erin Headley
If you don't own shares in EUROPCAR, read on for further demo-net-action...
I am sending this note to over 30 people. If each of you send it to another 10 and those 300 send it to yet another 10 and so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people, we will have warned over THREE MILLION consumers! (Sorry if any of them have shares in EUROPCAR.)
If those three million get excited and pass this on to 10 friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted. If it goes one level further, you guessed it - THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE.
All you have to do is send this to 10 people. That's all. (If you don't understand how we can reach 300 million when all you have to do is send this to 10 people...well, you may not be a mathematician. But I was nearly one - so trust me here.)
Certainly, most of us have had a customer service experience so bad that it seems it had to be intentional. But it is a dangerous leap indeed to assume that customer service so bad could only be proof of an intentional, corporate-sponsored scam.
BreakTheChain.org contacted Richard Abram, who confirmed he wrote the letter, stands by its claims and is happy that it's being widely distributed.
"I authored the letter. The intended audience was anyone interested in consumer affairs/likely to hire a car/likely to know someone who might hire a car. Quite happy to see it on the net at large, as a warning to the world and his wife: after the hours of time, stress and trouble Europcar put us through, it's the least we can do. (And we have kept all the documentation.)"
For the other side of the story, Adrian White, Head of Brand Marketing for Europcar UK told BreakTheChain.org that Mr. Abrams' ordeal was an unfortunate breakdown in customer service by the French customer service center.
"After investigation here at Europcar UK, I can confirm that a mistake occurred at our French customer service centre, and that the customer was refunded initially for over-billing on the number of days and subsequently on the petrol.
"He was not, however, victim to any alleged scam run by Europcar to overcharge or inconvenience our customers - simply the recipient of an unfortunate error.
"In contrast, Europcar UK has one of the world's leading car rental customer service performance levels. Every customer contact is recorded on file against the customer's rental profile, with an objective for any issue to be resolved within 5 working days. In most cases this can be achieved unless thorough international investigation is required, in these cases correspondence but not necessarily resolution is made with the customer within 5 days.
"Europcar UK has a 95% success rate in resolving issues to those standards throughout the year.
"It is with regret that this service level was not achieved on this occasion. We recommend that all UK residents contact Europcar UK customer services (01923 811 340) if they have reason to do so, regardless of where their rental took place. "
In rebuttal, Mr. Abram remains convinced that this was more than just bad customer service:
"I see you got Europcar customer service's attention where we failed!
"The overcharge was certainly not a 'mistake': when we first disputed it, they in turn insisted we had returned the car late (so no mistake); and Le Havre is a tiny airport, so I don't think it's anything like inevitable mistakes through sheer volume. Further, at no point did customer services either apologise or in any way disassociate themselves from what their Le Havre office was trying to do to us. So the inference we drew from their conduct was, I would say, reasonable (and it was certainly anecdotally supported in some of the feedback we received). If - as has plausibly been suggested - the rip-off was at a local level, the company is still responsible for the actions of its employees and representatives, and it didn't seem concerned about them a jot. I don't think a breakdown in customer services begins to cover it. (He says they recommend UK residents contact their UK customer services; we copied them on the correspondence, but they ignored it.)
"Perhaps arising from your contacting Europcar, my wife received on 1 July (!) an unsolicited e-mail in perfect English from someone else at French customer services, strangely apologising for any 'inconveniences caused during your rental' - offering no recompense, but nonetheless rather touchingly looking forward to serving us in the near future. That remains unlikely."
Though it never specifically mentions a boycott, Mr. Abram's letter fits the mold of a boycott chain. He admitted to BreakTheChain.org that he "borrowed" the ending paragraph about reaching 300 million people, from earlier misguided chains against ExxonMobil and McDonald's.
BreakTheChain.org recommends against participating in or propagating any e-mail boycott campaign. Use these Tests of Armchair Activism to learn why. Break this Chain!