I’m excited to bring back a weekly feature that probably belongs on every consumer advocacy site: “Is this a scam?” It really needs no introduction. By the way, I’ve also re-launched a related column, That’s Ridiculous!, on our sister site, Consumer Traveler. It’s definitely worth checking out. Here we go …
If you happen to blow through a tollbooth or get a parking ticket in your rental car, you probably know that in addition to paying the fine, your rental company will assess its own processing fee – a charge that, curiously, sometimes exceeds the toll violation or parking fine.
But what if you’re innocent? What if you paid the fine, and can prove it?
Sally Glunt’s husband rented a car from Budget in Long Beach, Calif., late last year. “He got a parking ticket from the City of Long Beach, for street cleaning day by the post office,” she says. “The signage was way down the street — but that’s not the story. He paid the ticket promptly and we received notice the check had been cashed.”
End of story? Not exactly.
After that, we noticed a $30 charge from Budget on our credit card.
I contested it through Chase and then received a funky copy of a letter from Budget saying the charge is an ‘administrative fee’ for research and processing costs.
Any questions were referred to a bogus email address. I also called the phone numbers provided, which always went to voicemail, and calls were never returned.
She appealed to Budget in writing and received the following response almost six months after her husband’s rental:
Thank you for your email, I am very sorry for the delayed response. We receive a high volume of emails in regards to citations.
The administration fee applies and is part of our policy whenever receiving notification of a citation to one of our vehicles.
Do you mean to tell me that Budget will charge you $30 even if you pay the ticket, and can show proof? What the heck?
“This may be a common practice for car rental companies,” says Sally. “But I think it’s unfair.”
She’s doesn’t want anyone else to face the same issue.
I’m done with pursuing this, having gotten the final answer from Budget.
But I don’t agree with it and would love to see some collective pressure on Budget and any other rental companies that unfairly impose a processing fee for something they didn’t have to do anything about.
She wants to know – and so do I – if this is a scam. I can certainly see Budget’s point of view, that it would need to research a ticket like this to see if it’s been paid. But if a rental customer has paid his debt to society, shouldn’t Budget also be as forgiving?
And what’s to stop Budget from “researching” a case that doesn’t have any fines, and simply charging it to a customer?
Also, where exactly does Budget disclose to its customers that it will charge them for researching parking tickets? Even if it does inform travelers, isn’t that kind of fee just a little absurd?