If you rent a car from Hertz, watch out! 230 customers say they were falsely arrested for car theft

A New Hampshire man on a cruise ship with his girlfriend had the end of his vacation cut short when police boarded the ship, accused him of stealing a Hertz car, and arrested him. The man, Charles Doucette, who is now in jail for up to 10 days, is one of 230 customers who says Hertz falsely accused him of car theft.

The problem occurs when a customer extends their rental, allowing Hertz to place a hold on their credit card. If the credit card doesn't go through for any reason, Hertz files a police report, according to Inc.

Hertz has tried to keep a lid on the high number (thousands) of police reports they file against customers every year — some of which are legitimate — but on Thursday a judge prevented the company from keeping the information secret.

From Inc.:

Hertz files about 3,365 police reports every year charging customers with car theft after they rented its cars. That number emerged on Thursday, after the car rental company lost a motion in court in its effort to keep the information sealed and out of public view. 

The number is part of the evidence in an ongoing lawsuit in which more than 100 customers are suing Hertz for $529.7 million in bankruptcy court after they were stopped by police, arrested, and sometimes spent months in jail for "stealing" cars they had simply rented. Most of these theft reports occur when a customer renting a vehicle wants to extend the rental, the lawsuit alleges. The customer calls Hertz to request an extension, and the company places a temporary hold for payment on the credit or debit card the customer used to rent the car.

If that hold fails to go through, for instance because a customer is close to their credit-card limit and hasn't yet paid their bill, Hertz reports the car as stolen "by conversion" to local law enforcement, the lawsuit says. After the customer pays up — and even after they return the car — the company does not withdraw the theft report, a Hertz spokesperson told The Philadelphia Inquirer. As a result, at least one former Hertz customer says she learned during a background check that there was an arrest warrant in her name, even though her car rental had been completed and paid for several years earlier, and she had never been notified that there was a problem.

Here is a CBS video report on Doucette's arrest, "the most horrific experience of my life":