from the oh-well-it's-just-customers-whose-money-we-already-have dept
It all started with Hertz being less than helpful when a man was falsely accused of murder. Michigan resident Herbert Alford was arrested and convicted for a murder he didn’t commit. He maintained his innocence, claiming he was at the airport in Lansing, Michigan during the time the murder occurred. And he could have proven it, too, if he had just been able to produce the receipt showing he had been renting a car at Hertz twenty minutes away from the crime scene.
It wasn’t until Alford had spent five years in prison that Hertz got around to producing the receipt. Three of those years can be laid directly at Hertz’s feet. The receipt was requested in 2015. Hertz handed it over in 2018. Alford sued.
That’s not the only lawsuit Hertz is facing. It apparently also has a bad habit of accusing paying customers of theft, something that has resulted in drivers being accosted by armed officers and/or arrested and charged.
Nine months later, another lawsuit rolled in. A proposed class action suit — covering more than 100 Hertz customers — claimed the company acts carelessly and engages in supremely poor recordkeeping. The lawsuit, (then) representing 165 customers, contains details of several customers who have been pulled over, arrested, and/or jailed because Hertz’s rental tracking system is buggier than its competitors’. Hertz takes pain to point out these incidents only represent a very small percentage of its renters. But that’s essentially meaningless when this small error rate doesn’t appear to occur at other car rental agencies.
This lawsuit is forcing Hertz to disclose exactly what this error rate is and how many renters it affects. It’s a much larger number than the 165 customers the lawsuit started with last November.
In a ruling Wednesday, a federal judge in Delaware sided with the request from attorneys for 230 customers who say they were wrongly arrested.
The total still depends on whom you ask. Hertz said it reports to police 0.014% of its 25 million annual rental transactions – or 3,500 customers. Attorneys for the renters said they believe the number is closer to 8,000.
It may look like only a rounding error to Hertz, but each of these 3,500-8,000 incorrect reports represents a possible loss of liberty, if not a possible loss of life. Law enforcement officers treat auto thieves as dangerous criminals. Being falsely accused by a rental company’s software doesn’t alter the threat matrix until long after the guns have been drawn.
Sometimes the problem has a human component. If a rental agent does not see a vehicle they thought was returned, they may file a report. And when humans aren’t involved, it’s Hertz’s computer system doing the dirty work.
Other times, [the attorney representing Hertz customers, France Malofiy] said, the confusion is caused by a customer swapping cars during their rental period or extending the time frame. If the credit or debit card charge fails to process correctly, he said Hertz’s system generates a theft report.
Malofiy said the company does not update its police reports if a payment ultimately processes – leaving customers to flounder in the criminal justice system. In 2020, a spokesperson for Hertz told the Philadelphia Inquirer that a stolen-vehicle report “was valid when it was made” and that it was “up to law enforcement to decide what to do with the case.”
And there’s another data point to add to Hertz’s perhaps inadvertent but very fucking real infliction of misery on thousands of renters every year. A man who has spent over $15,000 with Hertz since 2020 is currently sitting in jail thanks to yet another bogus Hertz theft alert.
All of this is at odds with Hertz’s repeated claim it only issues stolen vehicle notices to law enforcement following “extensive investigations.” If it did actually engage in thorough investigations of every generated theft report, it would not be currently facing a lawsuit from hundreds of drivers who’ve been arrested and jailed over bogus theft allegations. And the problem it claims isn’t really a problem wouldn’t still be getting people locked up for crimes they didn’t commit.