Is This a Great Scam or What . . .?


Wherever there are customers paying for services, there will be those few who try to profit above and beyond the services provided through illegal scams.  A scam is a way to make extra money from a customer without them knowing that they are paying for illegal or poor quality services.

I recall one such scam at the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel just across the Potomac from Washington, DC in the late 1980’s.  Perhaps this scam is not new to you, but it was to me.

Key bridgeOne of the most sought after positions at a hotel is the senior doorman who greats guests, orders taxis or limos for them, and generally makes certain guests are well taken care of.  Most receive healthy tips from thankful customers who are from out of town and want someone they can trust to help them out.  These positions don’t change hands very often and are coveted by the hotel staff.

One enterprising senior doorman had a great scam going.  He would size up the “wealth” and “naiveté” of the customer when they requested a taxi or driver service to take them to such places as dinner in Georgetown, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and other fancy places.  He had his favorite “stable” of limos on call, whom he would summon to take the thankful customers to their destination.  The scam?  The customer was seriously overcharged and the senior doorman would receive his “special envelope” at the end of the week.  And if he was shortchanged? That driver or limo company would drop to the bottom of the call list.  A win-win scam for everyone but the hotel client.

Eventually he was caught by Marriott Hotel security and lost his job.

My Recent Avis Scam Experience

As a frequent traveller I run into all the scams around, but this one is very clever, subtle and costly!  My wife and I took a quick trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland to watch our daughter play in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain concert in Derry, Northern Ireland.  We rented a car through British Airway’s partner, Avis, for the drive from Belfast to Derry and back.

We turned up at the rental counter, got our keys and were told, twice, by the agent at the desk if we wanted the damage insurance, since there was a £650 excess waver until our own insurance would kick in, unless we took their branded insurance.  We declined and were given a contract. On the contract was noted one small scratch above the rear wheel, duly recorded on the car.  Again the desk clerk was over doing it to point out the one little scratch that was already there, which of course we were not liable for and to ask a third time whether or not we wanted their insurance coverage.

“Me thinks the lady doth protest too much”,  my apologies to Shakespeare

When we walked out to the waiting car, we looked specifically at the little scratch, and it was little, got in the car and drove away.

We had a flawless drive, parked in a safe bay underneath the hotel, saw a great concert, left early the next morning for Belfast Airport, another flawless drive, and returned the car.

And here is where the scam gets really good.  At the little car return kiosk, a fast talking guy in Avis branded t-shirt came out, grabbed our rental agreement, checked all around the car and said: “This is a new scratch on the bumper!”  Well, we looked closely and there was a scratch. We both swore we parked in a safe place with no other cars so it must have been there already.   When we did our initial look around the car, we focused only on the previously mentioned scratch.

After much arguing that we must have overlooked it at the beginning, he kept pushing to sign the damage-form, which, for a little scratch on the plastic bumper, was £300!

Then it dawned on me.  It is very easy to have two scratches on a car, but only mark one on the contract.  If the customer sees the other scratch on his initial walk around, then it can be noted by the attendant.  But most customers after a long flight, with screaming kids and lots of luggage, give a cursory look, load up and drive off.

I wager that most second scratches are not noticed and another £300 must be paid.  I also wager that there is a bonus scheme in place by the kiosk manager for the amount of scratch claims paid by customers.  A win-win for all, except the rental customer.

Think I am paranoid?  There is a simple way to check.  Get the records for several cars with claims and look at the initial marks versus the return marks.  My bet is that the same car and the same marks are used in this scam over and over.

I am just curious how many of you travellers out there have had a similar rental-return scratch scam happen to you?  Any from Avis at Belfast City Airport?

Want to see how many more pissed customers there are? Check on Google for “Avis Scam” and see how many similar experiences you find! I found a lot.

Wiser but poorer!

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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3 Responses to Is This a Great Scam or What . . .?

  1. I had a bad experience with a car rental company (not Avis, think they were National Car Rentals or some such forgettable brand) in Edinburgh. They hit me after I had handed the car back with a claim for a scratch I knew was not mine. They hit my credit card and then wrote to me. After lots of letters (this was a while ago) they eventually acknowledged that the scratch was done the day before I hired it, and refunded me, They were so incompetent they gave me a double refund, which I decided to keep in case I should ever have the pleasure of seeing try to extract money of THEIRS which I had already taken. Sadly they never noticed, or if they did they realised it wasn’t worth the effort.

    Shysters the lot of them.

    Moral. Take a cab.


  2. I now always inspect every car I rent and take timed photos of any unrecorded, pre-existing damage. Also, I try to report this damage to the rental firm at the time of collection, but this is not always feasible, owing to long queues for attention.

    Obviously, this is a pain in the neck and adds significant time to the car collection process. However, it seems to prevent the prevalent ‘rental car damage scam’.

    If and when I arrive at an airport too late at night to inspect and take photos of pre-existing damage, I mention at Reception that I will be conducting an inspection and taking photos first thing the following morning (as soon as it’s light), ask them what phone number I should call if I spot any unrecorded damage and make sure that I’m seen writing down this phone number.

    However, I don’t disagree with Michael’s advice that it’s often quicker and cheaper to “take a cab”.


  3. I believe such scams are pervasive in our society and a general reflection of the sad fact that ‘integrity’ is no longer a virtue that is valued. The travel industry is particularly prone to this. On any guided tour the guide or courier receives ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ dollars based on purchases in selected stores or stops at particular refreshment places etc. The bottom line is that we all pay higher prices as a result of the scamming. Of course the biggest scam is our government which sets the standard for everyone else.


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