Help me fight Italian car rental scammery!
September 28, 2009 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I am being badly ripped off by Maggiore, an Italian rental car company (with a strong assist from a cab driver in Lucca). Please help me.

Executive summary: I worked with a company called Europe By Car to book a car rental in Italy for the past week; they set me up with a rental through a company called Maggiore who rented us a bum car, are sticking me with thousands of dollars of undeserved charges, and we're pretty sure that one of their workers colluded with a cab driver to shake us down.

Details: We picked up the car at the Pisa airport, and drove just past Lucca. On the Autostrade, just before the Capannori exit, the clutch went out, forcing us to push the car off of a busy freeway. After getting off the freeway, we called the Maggiore roadside assistance number, and a tow truck was sent out. We were towed to a garage in Lucca, where we called the Maggiore desk; they told us to bring paperwork from the man who towed us and take a cab from Lucca to the Pisa airport.

We did so, and were told the cab fare (which was supposed to be reimbursable) was 70 Euro. We paid it and got a receipt for the
reimbursement. We gave the paperwork to the Maggiore people, and they gave us a different car, and everything seemed OK for most of the week.

Yesterday, then when we returned the car, the cab driver was standing at the Maggiore desk, and the man running the desk (he said his name was Alberto, and wouldn't give us his last name, which does not exactly fill me with confidence) said we had never paid the cab driver, and could not leave until we did. This is simply not true; we remember paying the man, and have a receipt to prove it. During the ensuing discussion, "Alberto" also started accusing us of breaking the first car (not possible-- we simply did not have the car long enough to burn out a clutch, even if we were driving poorly. Which we were not) and denting the second (also not true-- we were extremely careful, and returned the car in good condition). In the end, we got worried about missing our plane, and paid the cab driver another 70 Euros just to get the hell out of there.

This morning, my credit card is showing charges from Maggiore for $1177.04 and $1469.38.

So, my complaints are manifold: a Maggiore worker colluded with a cab driver to scam us, and now appears to be sticking me with thousands of dollars of undeserved charges.

What recourse do I have? I've sent an email to Europe By Car, the booking company we worked with (the text of that email is pretty similar to this post). I would love more information on how to fight this.
posted by COBRA! to Travel & Transportation around Italy (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Do you have copies of the paperwork you are liable against? Do you have photos of the car (even cellphone pix) from any point during the visit? You should at the very least get an itemized list from the for what they are billing you. You can dispute the charges with your credit card company. The Auto place should at least be able to invoice you if they wish to charge you. Talk to your credit card company.
posted by kenbennedy at 7:08 AM on September 28, 2009

Best answer: nth-ing, dispute it with your credit card company immediately.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:10 AM on September 28, 2009

Best answer: Second talking to the card company. We had a bad experience with a beach rental earlier this year and the company was able to get us a substantial refund. We had some pictures of the problems for evidence but to a large extent it was our word against theirs. When we called the company they sent us a short form to fill out and we had to write a letter detailing what happened, but it was really pretty simple.
posted by TedW at 7:12 AM on September 28, 2009

Don't waste your time talking to us. Call your credit card company and lodge an initial dispute now. They will remove the charges from your bill so you don't have to pay them while they investigate. The fact that you didn't get what you originally paid for is something you'll work out in time, but the thousands of dollars in random charges is something you want gone immediately.
posted by zachlipton at 7:20 AM on September 28, 2009

Best answer: Forget the €70, and dispute the credit card charges with your credit card company immediately.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:29 AM on September 28, 2009

Best answer: Dispute now. Work out everything else later.
You don't deserve the charges. It's up to them to prove that you do. The credit card company will call the car company to see what's up, then get back to you. In the meantime, the charges will disappear, which can do wonders for peace of mind.
posted by caveat at 7:38 AM on September 28, 2009

Response by poster: Update, having talked to the credit card company: both charges are still pending, and I can't officially dispute them until they post, but the process is started at least. If nothing else, it's heartening to hear other people have disputed charges and won. Thanks, guys.

I agree the 70 Euros is chicken feed compared to the big charges, but I really don't like the fact that the guy at the Maggiore desk was in on it.
posted by COBRA! at 7:41 AM on September 28, 2009

Best answer: The magic words are "disupute resolution process". Call your credit card company.
posted by devnull at 7:42 AM on September 28, 2009

Don't forget to raise merry hell at the same time with Europe by Car at the same time. Their reputation is on the line too.

For good measure, I'd also tell Europe by Car that you are going to write to a consumer affairs champion in the national media, and actually do it.

If it's a shakedown, it's likely to be a recurring event and someone will have seen some pattern emerging.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:00 AM on September 28, 2009

$1177.04 and $1469.38 come out to the suspiciously round sums of €800 and €1000, respectively.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:36 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

803.44 and 1002.98 to be exact.

If you are going to start off on a letter writing campaign, here's some info.

Here's the customer service form for EBC

From the same site, specifically his President's Letter where he states "Anyone can e-mail the President, and he'll actually respond" -- here's the email address of the President:
Alexander Roy
Europe By Car, Inc.

Please keep the thread updated? I wish you the best, and am be curious to see how this plays out.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:41 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes, please update the thread. I am heading to Italy soon and was considering Europe By Car but after hearing nonsense like this, I'm reconsidering.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:21 PM on September 28, 2009

Note that in my experience it is routine to make pending charges on your credit card for a the amount of the deductible to ascertain that your credit limit is high enough to cover it. (Or whatever they do to check your credit limit shows up as pending charges.) The exact amounts of money do point to this direction. But yeah, if they do get posted, dispute them.

And yeah, Alberto and the cab driver ran a scam on you for 70 euros. That you were in a hurry to catch your flight was probably not a coincidence either.
posted by Authorized User at 1:29 PM on September 28, 2009

Only worry about those two charges if they post.

Almost all car rental places are like that. They put a pending (sortof like a hold) on a certain amount of money, to make sure your card limit goes up that high. One pending is from the first car and the second one is from second car you got.

Fight them about those two $70 dollar cash payments.

Also, gas pumps in Canada sortof do the same thing. They put a pending for like $70 or $100 and then after you fill up for like $50 they don't return the difference for a couple of days sometimes.
posted by Iax at 2:18 PM on September 28, 2009

Response by poster: I'll keep updating as stuff happens. Where things are at now, I'm still waiting for the charges to post so I can dispute them (and looking at the timing, the $1100 is probably the standard hold from the first car; my bank said that if that one hasn't posted yet, it's not likely to. The second one, the $1469, came from the day we returned the car and has no legit purpose).

I'm also in the process of dealing with Europe by Car's customer service department. Have to fax them some things, which delays me until Wednesday (soonest I'll be near a fax machine). Jerseygirl, thanks a ton for that email-the-president info, I'll be starting a separate process there. I'm also going to be trying to get at least something back from the cab fare, at least for the one I have a receipt for.

Yes, please update the thread. I am heading to Italy soon and was considering Europe By Car but after hearing nonsense like this, I'm reconsidering.

For what it's worth, 100% of my trouble's been with the Pisa office of Maggiore (who're affiliated with Alamo). Europe by Car's been ok so far (although I haven't seen the customer service process all the way through), just don't let them book you through Alamo or Maggiore.

Thanks a ton, guys.
posted by COBRA! at 3:06 PM on September 28, 2009

FWIW, Maggiore is the biggest independent rental company in Italy so they also have a reputaton to protect. My guess is that they would get to "Alberto" like a ton of bricks if they knew. If you can ever be bothered to write to them directly, I can translate for you.
posted by MessageInABottle at 7:46 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh, yeah. I'll MeMail you in the next day or so with some text. Thanks a ton for that.
posted by COBRA! at 8:30 AM on September 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: having my own little 1943 today, trying to bring heat from as many directions as possible:

-Credit card charge went from Pending to Posted this morning, and was disputed immediately. I get weeks of paperwork now, but I'm hopeful that my bank will play ball.
-Just faxed a crapload of stuff to Europe by Car's Customer Service department.
-And sent an email to EbC's President.
-A friend suggested posting the details of this on Rick Steves' travel website; judging by the number of Rick Steves guidebooks I saw in people's hands over there, I can see that possibly hitting Maggiore where it hurts.
-And, finally, MIAB, if you're still down for doing a translation, I'm working on an email to Maggiore.
posted by COBRA! at 9:00 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Latest update, for people still following:

- CC charge is now in disputed purgatory.

- Europe by Car claims to be working on things from their end.

- With MIAB's help, I sent an email to Maggiore; this morning, after several days' delay, I finally got an email back from them in Italian, telling me, I believe, to try another email address.

- Also, last night I finally got a bill from Maggiore in the mail, enumerating their charges. 20 Euros for an additional driver is legit, the rest is fiction- 530 Euros in damage to a car, 33 Euros for them to refuel a car that we gassed up on the way to the airport, 90 Euros in unspecified "airport charges," and, my favorite, 135 Euros of VAT on the fraudulent charges. A copy of this, with my notation, was faxed to Europe by Car.
posted by COBRA! at 9:56 AM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: And the latest update:

Got a letter from Bank of America last night saying that they accepted my dispute, were crediting me for the bogus charges, and consider the matter resolved.

Total silence still from Europe by Car and Maggiore, despite some "hey! What's going on?" emails. These fronts are less important now since BoA's playing ball; I guess all that's (potentially) left would be cab (and scam) reimbursement, but that's a sunk cost.

It's weird to me that the giant banking conglomerate is the responsive Good Guy here, but that's the way things shook out.
posted by COBRA! at 7:36 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, Alex Roy of Europe by Car fame, is also this guy.
posted by kcds at 5:46 PM on January 5, 2010

Definitely dispute.

The other pro-tip when getting ripped off in Italy: Just say, "well, let's call the carbinieri, and see what they say" (cops). You would be amazed how quickly this can 'fix' problems in the larger cities (mileage will dramatically vary in the country, and bear in mind there are plenty of crooked cops in Italy, too).
posted by smoke at 7:27 PM on January 5, 2010

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