Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Some stories just make you stare.

The innards of your mind waft between disbelief -- and even a little anger -- and a suspicion that something about this story may not be quite right.

At least that's how I felt when I read a disturbing report from ABC Action News.

It concerned Hertz customers who suddenly found themselves being accused of having stolen cars they thought they were legitimately renting.

Suddenly, they were being detained by police and even offered a few hours in jail.

One woman, Dina Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio described her painful experience as "the seven longest hours of my life."

She was stopped by patrol agents at the Canadian/U.S. border and arrested. 

What transpired is that the car Hertz had rented to her was actually the property of another car rental company.

Yet she says she'd rented it from Hertz in good faith. 

Another woman, Magalie Sterlin, says that she, too, was arrested and jailed after Hertz had allegedly reported her car stolen. Even though, she claims, she had legitimately rented it.

Her lawyer insists that the cause of such problems is a computer glitch at Hertz.

You might think any business making a mistake might check thoroughly before taking drastic action that could lead to its customers' arrest.

Naturally, I asked Hertz for its view on these allegations. A spokeswoman told me: 

False reports of stolen vehicles are extremely rare, and we take them very seriously. When it has occurred, it has been the result of unique and extenuating circumstances. Our process for determining when a vehicle is reported stolen has multiple steps to ensure accuracy, and in the rare instance an error within our control has occurred we take responsibility.

This sounds heartily responsible.

Yet Sterlin's lawyer claims there are up to 30 cases of Hertz allegedly not following its processes, and customers being detained.

Indeed, there are cases where a customer claims they were given a new car after the original one had a flat tire. The new car, however, simply wasn't processed. The rental car company informs the police the car is stolen. And then the customer receives a nasty surprise.

Similar incidents have been reported when a customer upgraded their car.

Hertz told me that the two cases specifically profiled by ABC were very different. The company spokeswoman said that in Sterlin's case: 

Hertz files a police report as a last resort and maintains it followed its overdue rental process including extensive communication with the renter over the course of several weeks.

Ah. Oh.

What about the claim of 30 cases of customers being arrested? Hertz insisted there is no computer glitch and that the number of active lawsuits is in the single digits.

Might there be more lawsuits yet to be activated?

And if there is no computer glitch, what could be the cause of innocent customers being grabbed by the police?

Hertz suggested it's usually either human error or a failure to follow Hertz's processes.

Yet how great must a failure to follow processes be to get a customer arrested?

Car rental companies have, over recent times, not enjoyed the best of brand images.

Many might conclude that, in the case of customers being wrongly arrested, Hertz could perhaps make its processes a little more robust.

If your company exists to offer customers a useful service, it's not a good look when they end up being the reluctant guests of law enforcement.

Published on: May 18, 2019
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