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How can I get my money back?
July 4, 2011 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Eighteen months ago, a Florida car hire company went out of business, owing me money. Although I submitted my details for the creditors' list, I heard nothing. Now the company has resurfaced under a new name. What are my options?

YesCarHire was a third party company that sold pre-paid rental vouchers for Alamo. I used them for several years, before one day I turned up at the Alamo desk to collect my car and was informed that the company's account had been suspended. My vouchers were no longer valid so I had to pay again.

On return, I received a letter from YesCarHire informing me of a "temporary major issue" and instructing me to send a number of documents to an address in Orlando for the unsecured creditors' list. I assumed this meant the company had gone bust. I complied with the instructions even though I had little hope of ever hearing from them again. There was no telephone number, the website showed only an outage message (still does) and I had no name for the appointed administrators. To this day, I have received no communications from them. I had pretty much written off the loss as a life lesson and now deal only directly with the hire car firms.

I probably would not have given the issue another thought had the same slimey bastard who stole my money not started re-sending me promotional emails, ostensibly for a new company called BudgetHire but identical in every other way to those I received from yesCarHire. The website is similarly skinned. I know they are the same person because both yescarhire.com and budgethire.com are registered to the same person, Ian West, the former president of YesCarHire and now presumably President of BudgetHire.

Incidentally, as the creditors list was held at an address in Orlando, I thought it was an American company, but this Ian West has registered the websites to a UK address. So I don't even know which country's laws apply.

Do I have any recourse to continue pursuing this matter? What steps should I take next? Or do I have to accept that my money has gone and I ain't getting it back?
posted by londonmark to Work & Money (12 answers total)
 
Consult with a bankruptcy lawyer. What you received does not sound legitimate.

You can use the Federal courts web site to see if a bankruptcy petition has indeed been filed for the company.

There may be a state agency that investigates consumer frauds.

If the company did in fact file for bankruptcy, the individual owner(s) is perfectly free to set up another business in the same line of work, and the new company would not have responsibility for the debts of the old - if done right.

Your money is probably gone for good.
posted by yclipse at 4:26 AM on July 4, 2011


Definitely contact an attorney, preferably one that has some experience with corporate bankruptcy.

But don't count on getting anything back. When an entity goes bankrupt, unsecured creditors generally get screwed. Sorry.
posted by valkyryn at 5:16 AM on July 4, 2011


How much money are you talking about? If its under $200 forget the lawyer, go to small claims court.
posted by Xurando at 5:32 AM on July 4, 2011


Purely speculation, but my guess is that your money was lost in the bankruptcy of the YesCarHire corporation. It is even possible that this individual paid his personal money, pennies on the dollar to the YesCarHire corporation during bankruptcy to purchase most of its assets (including e-mail lists) and used that to start a new corporation BudgetHire. He can probably repeat this exercise many times. Unless you are willing to spend the time or money to prove that it is a scam deliberately set to steal money (as opposed to a poor businessman who's ventures fail), I don't think there is much to do. Report it to the BBB, state attorney general, etc. if you wish, it may help them down the road.
posted by meinvt at 6:32 AM on July 4, 2011


I'm owed approximately $600, which is a lot to me, but it's a loss I came to terms with a long time ago. So I'd rather not risk throwing good money after bad on a solicitor on a long-shot, which is what it's starting to sound like. Does anyone know how I would go about trying to track down who was handling the creditors' list? Would such a thing be recorded anywhere?
posted by londonmark at 7:11 AM on July 4, 2011


You should alert the attorney general's office regarding a scam operating in their state.

That said, Florida is pretty famous for these sorts of things because they have pretty lax business laws. But reporting this can't hurt.

You can call and speak to someone at the attorney general's office and describe your situation and suspicions, find out what details and documentation they will need you to provide to them in writing - and then do that.

I agree $600 isn't a trivial amount. You may not get your money back, but you might save others your predicament by following through.

Good Luck.

(I'm curious how the voucher deal with the car companies is structured. I find it odd they won't honor your vouchers - that seems wrong whether the original company is still in business or not. Maybe start investigating there?)
posted by jbenben at 8:16 AM on July 4, 2011


YesCarHire was a third-party reseller for Alamo. They made the booking with Alamo and charged me, sending me a proof of purchase in the form of a voucher. I presented the voucher to Alamo to claim my rental. I'm guessing their relationship with Alamo was on some kind of account basis, and that they fell behind with payment, leading to suspension of the account. Alamo had not been paid for my booking so refused to honour it. It had worked for me many times over the years, so I don't think it was a scam.

I'm just (naievely, probably) shocked that someone can go out of business owing me money and then, through some arcane process that I don't understand, start up the exact same business again less than two years later without so much as a shrug or an apology (and have the nerve to spam me about it!) So what I'm really trying to understand is how did that happen? I'm not sure where to start that doesn't involve ambushing the guy at his new office, which I guess is always an option.
posted by londonmark at 9:55 AM on July 4, 2011


You could try going down to the office and just asking for a new set of free vouchers. He might prefer that instead of having lawyers come after him, as he would be out less than the $600, because he pays less to Alamo, I am sure. You might be fine with $400 of vouchers to save yourself the hassle but still feel compensated a bit. Don't know if it would work, but it might be worth it to ask. (Plus, it would benefit him to not have this thread floating out and about without a happy ending added onto it.)
posted by Vaike at 10:27 AM on July 4, 2011


through some arcane process that I don't understand

It isn't all that arcane. It's called bankruptcy discharge. Basically, by entering bankruptcy (likely Chapter 11 in this case), the business was able to reorganize and repay its debts according to a hierarchy in which secured creditors get more and unsecured creditors get less or nothing. If you submitted documents of the type proof of claim, then you were included in the bankruptcy and entitled to communication about the status of your claim. If you did not submit a proof of claim by a certain date, you are probably unable now to pursue any action. If the company has completed Chapter 11 (sometimes it can be surprisingly quick), the debts that did not submit proof of claim are discharged forever (in most cases barring actual provable fraud).

So what I'm really trying to understand is how did that happen?

The whole point of bankruptcy is to allow an entity -- business, farm, individual -- to reorganize their debts, shedding those they cannot plausibly pay back, and start over.

It may be the same "business", but it isn't the same business entity. Most people go back to doing what they were doing before. Carpenters don't become accountants, tow-truck drivers don't become real-estate agents. Yes, you're entitled to feel burned, and not do business with them ever again -- but it was all likely legal.
posted by dhartung at 1:10 PM on July 4, 2011


I just did a PACER search and found nothing relating to a YesCarHire or Ian West (UK). Was the Orlando address that of the Bankruptcy Clerk (Middle District of Florida) or the US Trustee there?
posted by dhartung at 1:30 PM on July 4, 2011


Thanks dhartung, I really appreciate your help. I did indeed submit what I believed was the proof of claim to the creditors' list and I did so by registered mail (but to be honest, I'm not sure I still have my proof of postage). They asked for copies of my rental vouchers, driver's licence, and proof of payment. This was never acknowledged. The address supplied appeared to be that of the hire car company, which seems strange now that I think this is a UK-based company. Is the US process for bankruptcy discharge the same for a company that is not based in the US? They probably relied on the fact that small claimants like me would be unable to find out what was happening and go away. I assume Alamo had a little more luck. I don't suppose I would be able to obtain the name of the administrator from them? I suppose I could always go directly to this Ian West but his track record doesn't exactly fill me with hope that he will be eager to help.
posted by londonmark at 2:50 AM on July 5, 2011


They probably relied on the fact that small claimants like me would be unable to find out what was happening and go away.

It's more likely that there simply weren't enough assets to pay your claim. Didn't necessarily have anything to do with sneakiness or someone trying to pull a fast one. When a company is liquidated as part of a bankruptcy proceeding, creditors get paid in the order of the priority of their claims. Secured creditors, i.e. creditors with identifiable collateral attached to their loans, get that collateral, which means it can't be sold to satisfy other debts. Then come "preferential creditors," including employees and the tax man. Unsecured creditors come last and even if there is anything left to pay them--and there isn't always--they get pennies on the dollar. It's entirely possible that the business had nothing left with which to pay unsecured creditors.

Tell you what though: contact the bankruptcy court. Assets of bankrupts are turned over to the bankruptcy trustee for their respective districts. You can probably contact the trustee to see what, if anything, was distributed to unsecured creditors. If anybody got anything, you may be entitled to something, and because the funds are with the trustee, they should still be there.

Still, odds are pretty good that there just wasn't anything left. Sorry.
posted by valkyryn at 6:41 AM on July 5, 2011


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