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Alleged, Unsubstantiated $2,000 USD Traffic Violation in France (Hertz Car Rental)

I was in France last August (2019), and a month later started receiving dunning letters stating I owed Hertz $2,000. There was no explanation, no backup documentation, nothing. I emailed and tried calling multiple times over several months with no reply. I received three dunning letters and one final notice. I explained in emails multiple times I had no idea what the charge was for and would not pay until/unless I knew what it was for. No responses. Now, 5 months later, I have been sent to a collection agency in the U.S. Very frustrating. I had read somewhere that under E.U. law, rental agencies are required to provide customers any traffic violation information within a certain time period. I never received anything. Does anyone have any useful information to share before I contact the collection agency? Thanks!

Steve

Posted by
16941 posts

Sounds like a damage claim, not a traffic violation.

Posted by
5775 posts

So, there's something in your post that does not make sense.

If you commit a traffic violation in a foreign country, in a rented car, what happens (or what is supposed to happen) is that the local police contact the agency (because they have photos of the car's license plate). The agency provides your contact info to the police department. The rental agency charges you a fee for this "service" (it's in the fine print of the rental contract you signed). Then, the police contact you. Typically, the police take a long time to do that, and then they (the police) essentially send you a bill for your fine, with some instructions on how to pay it.

This is very common. Many people (usually first-time posters) come her and complain about it. While it's understandable to grouse about it (nobody likes being caught or having to pay a ticket), it is how the system works - and few people here have an excess of sympathy.

What's particularly odd about what you are saying is that the rental agency is charging you for a traffic violation. They don't do that. They give your info to the police, and the it's police's job to come after you for the fine.

Are you sure that the car rental agency is trying to charge you for a traffic fine? How do you know?

It's more likely that they are claiming you returned the car with some damage. Are you sure it's not that?

Posted by
31530 posts

steve,

I agree with the others, this sounds more like a charge for damage to the rental vehicle rather than a traffic violation. If that's the case, I can't imagine what type of damage would cost $2000. Something that significant would have been easy to see. What type of insurance package did you purchase when you rented the car? Now that the file has been referred to a collection agency, Hertz probably won't be involved in the process.

As a first step, I'd probably contact the collection agency to determine exactly what these charges are for.

Good luck!

Posted by
5775 posts

I can't imagine what type of damage would cost $2000

Oh, you need a better imagination! $2000 worth of damage to a car is pretty easy to do. Now, that said, I would assume that most drivers would notice $2000 worth of damage (although it could have been while the car was parked). I always take a bunch of photos of a rental car before I accept it, and then after I drop it off. There are unscrupulous car rental agencies (or specific employees) and it has happened before that some "damage" was discovered after the renter had dropped the car and gone on their way. Having before-and-after photos is about the only way to defend yourself from dishonest agencies that try to pull that.

Bottom line: OP needs to call Hertz and speak with someone, if he can - although at this point, it may be "owned" by the collection agency. Don't just respond via email (especially if those responses are not answered), gotta reach a human and rattle the cage a bit.

Good luck.

Posted by
8872 posts

Agree with above that it seems more likely a damage claim, not a traffic citation

A bit puzzled by the fact they are sending a collection agency after you. Would think for a damage claim they would just charge the credit card you used to pay the rental

This is the best I can do to provide 'useful information' --- https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/debt-collection-faqs

Posted by
11450 posts

I’ve never heard of anyone’s traffic violations in Europe being sent to a collection agency in USA or Canada .

This really does seem odd . I especially find it odd that the rental car agency isn’t answering you .

Posted by
2067 posts

I have read a number of reports of French Police using collection agencies in the US to enforce payment of moving violation fines. However, the rental companies have had nothing to do with the fines or their collection, other than originally supplying the police with the renters contact information.

In this case, I do not believe we have been presented with all relevant information but I agree that this sounds more like a car damage claim.

Posted by
76 posts

There are some rental car companies and towns/cities in Europe that use USA collection agencies. So yes, it happens. I've had Hertz come after me once and they do send a notice for money they want, they don't bill a card for everything for whatever reason. It wasn't for damage or a fine and it wasn't justified. It was for something that occurred with the next renter. It helps that I have experience dealing with French issues, showed them they were wrong and they dropped it but took awhile.

It's probably not a traffic violation, though. 2000 euros would be a whole lot of moving violations and is a suspiciously round number so I'd guess damage to the car. I haven't gotten a French traffic fine yet but I know people who have with Hertz and they send the details of the traffic offense since they're required to. Date, location, how much you were speeding by. So they're more than likely billing your for damage.

Did you rent through a rental car agency such as Auto Europe? If you did you should ask them to help you with Hertz. I've had trouble with Hertz France twice.They weren't damage or traffic fines but was about money. First time I tried dealing with it myself and it ended up working but it was in limbo. Second time I used Auto Europe to handle it. Have also had trouble with Europcar once, dealt with it myself and got it resolved but same thing, can't contact the people you need to contact. Sort of a black box situation.

Tell the collections agency to tell you what it's for. Hopefully you rented through an agency and can get them to help you even though it was months ago. If you have a damage waiver through your credit card, you should see about submitting a claim and letting them deal with it. That could make it go away.

Posted by
3083 posts

This is an issue that will not be resolved here. All we can do is offer speculation. Gather your documentation and go to the Elliott (Consumer) Advocacy website to see if they are willing to take your case.

Posted by
8515 posts

Backing up Dave—get to the Elliott consumer website immediately. They are the experts, not us. They’ll either guide you or take the case on, as well as instructing in methodology, starting with keep everything in writing, no phone calls.

Posted by
11 posts

All, thank you for your comments. I will contact the agency a couple of you provided. As odd as it sounds, the facts I presented are accurate. I DID have damage (a flat tire), but that was repaired and paid for. All was resolved when, out of the blue, I received the first "dunning letter", which only gave me direction how to pay the 1,800 euros I owed -- NO explanation whatsoever. I thought it was a hoax until I received "Dunning Letter #2". That's when I started trying to contact Hertz France. No responses. After Dunning Letter #3, I called Hertz USA, and all they could tell me was that the charge was related to a traffic violation. After "Final Dunning Letter" I again sent an email to Hertz France (a couple different email addresses) and stated, again, that I had received several dunning letters requesting me to pay 1800 euros with no explanation or backup documentation and that I would not pay anything without have any idea what the charge was for. Nothing! Now I have been sent to collections.

Thanks again for your thoughts. Again, I will contact that organization as well as the collection agency.

Best,
Steve

Posted by
2067 posts

The facts may be accurate but they are not clear.

No evidence links anything to the French Police, only speculation form Hertz USA that there is some type of traffic violation. If the notifications you have received have been coming from Hertz France, you may be reasonably sure that the French police are not involved and likely have no interest in you. Rental companies do not collect money for the French police.

Did you not have a credit card on file with Hertz France when you picked up the car? Is this credit card still valid? Any damage claim by Hertz would have been charged first to your credit card. If the card you used to rent the car has been subsequently cancelled, Hertz would not have been able to make any charge and might be attempting collection some other way. If the credit card on file with the French rental office is still valid and no attempt was ever made by them to use the card for a claim of money owed, the legitimacy of any such claim seems dubious.

If I were you, I would call the rental office where the car was returned and follow up with a letter. The French are not particularly good about using emails for correspondence.

This is another reason I always recommend using a broker such as Autoeurope who are very good at communicating with foreign rental companies, at least to obtain relevant information in the event of a problem.

Posted by
384 posts

Hi Steve,

My Mom worked collections in the 80s, so I'm pretty familiar with the process.

I strongly suspect you're being scammed.

Ask the collection agency for every single bit of documentation they have. Specifically ask if they have registered letters, the initial contract with your signature on it, and proof of damage or fine. They'll try to play hard ball with you -- threaten to take you to court -- but if they don't have the above documentation then they've got nothing. If they say they have it, tell them you want a copy. Make sure you get every bit of information you can about the collection agency: their phone number, address, the agent's name and the case number.

As soon as you have their address, you must MAIL them a letter asking for "proof of debt". DO NOT DO THIS OVER THE PHONE. You need to do this ASAP as there's a 30-day limit. Make sure this letter is registered. More information can be found here:

https://www.thebalance.com/sample-debt-validation-letter-for-debt-collectors-960597

I would also run a quick Google search on them to see if they're legit.

Do not, under any circumstances, say you'll take a charge-off to make it go away or agree to pay them. Do not give them a credit card number or your social security number.

Again, this reeks of scam, but if it's not, the above steps will help protect you.

Good luck,

-- Mike Beebe

Posted by
6037 posts

The other odd thing about this issue is that if these are truly from Hertz, as part of your rental agreement, they have the authority to charge your card directly (Even if the card is cancelled at this time) for fees associated with passing on information on traffic violations, tolls, as well as damage. They do not need to send you an email or snail mail to ask to collect, they can just charge it to the card used, you have already authorized it, all they need do is notify you with the reason. That itself raises the issue of "Scam".

Posted by
2744 posts

If this was for a traffic violation, you would have been billed $50-60 for Hertz to provide your information to the police and then the civil authority would have contacted you about the violation. If Hertz is contacting you, it must be for vehicle damage. They don’t collect traffic fines. If you did not receive anything directly from Hertz, this might be a scam. Get in touch with Hertz, not the collection agency.

Posted by
2916 posts

I'd follow Mike Beebee's advice. Believe it or not, collection agencies are not always aboveboard.

Posted by
4535 posts

I strongly suspect you're being scammed.

This is the 1st thing I thought as I read through it all. Rental agencies do NOT charge you for traffic violations. They charge you an administrative fee for providing your contact information to the police agency. It is the responsibility of the police agency to collect the fine. So this would NOT be related to a traffic violation.

2nd - they did nothing to respond to your inquiries. Sometimes emails cannot be replied to, they are sent from a bot. But the email would have contact information on it for you to make proper inquires.

3rd - they did not provide any documentation on the reason or information for the charges. They cannot just send you an email and ask for you to pay a random amount.

The "collection agency" may well be part of the scam. I'd be careful about working with them in any way. At the very least, research them to be sure it is a legitimate business.

If by some chance it is not a scam, then they cannot expect any payment for not disclosing what it is for. Apart from the slight annoyance of the collection effort, nothing bad will really happen assuming you already have excellent credit.

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you all, lots of good insights. I will proceed with caution, although I don't think it is a scam. The collection agency checks out, and after not hearing back from Hertz France, Hertz USA did confirm from the dunning letter case number that it was related to a traffic violation. The dunning letter, however, did come from the Hertz France Damage Collections Team, and I agree the amount (EUR 1,849.85, to be precise) does sound a lot more like damage. I'm wondering if it was something that happened after I turned in the car, as someone suggested. The fact that Hertz France has not responded to multiple inquiries on my part (to the email address listed on the dunning letters, customer service Hertz France, and Hertz France contraventions) is mind boggling! I have communicated with the collection agency. We'll see what they say.

Thanks again,
Steve

Posted by
2067 posts

The information from Hertz USA referencing a traffic violation could be referencing damage to the front of the car and assumed culpability on your part. I do not think you are being scammed by a collections agency and possibly not by the rental company which has likely found damage to the car and is looking for the simplest explanation - that you damaged the car.

It could just as easily occurred, assuming that the car is damaged, after you returned the car and it was checked in by the staff. Damage could have been caused by a careless employee, who does not want to admit guilt, or by another rental customer as he left/entered the lot. I would proceed cautiously and persistently to clear any responsibility.

Posted by
5775 posts

...and next time, don't forget to take good before-and-after photos of all car rentals.

Posted by
4535 posts

Thanks for the update Steve. It is still rather odd. If it was damages, why wouldn't Hertz just charge your card on file? And they would have to notify you of what the damages were. If they had charged your credit card, you could have worked through your bank to have them investigate what the charge was for.

Posted by
8872 posts

If this is a traffic violation, it would be a first ( on this forum) that one did not get a charge on their credit card for the fee that is charged to provide the driver info to the police.

If it is a damage claim, the only thing that comes to mind ( in the absence of any visually obvious damage) is having put the wrong fuel in the tank, when you topped it off before turn in. Obviously just speculation, as Hertz has not yet explained what the bill is for.

Document the date, time, party involved on all phone calls and create a paper trail. Even the fact you attempted contact but got nowhere with the person you contacted could be useful.

Good luck

Posted by
11 posts

Agreed on all points! It does seem like possible damage after we left the vehicle makes the most sense. Gratefully, we DID take pictures when we dropped off the car, so we have that if needed. It couldn't be there wrong gas, because we never topped off as it had to be towed. And yes, why they didn't charge my card is a mystery! All very strange indeed.

Steve

Posted by
8872 posts

it had to be towed.

Huh?

Is that related to the flat tire?

Posted by
11 posts

Yes, on our last day of the rental we found the car had two flat tires, most likely vandalism. It was towed (we went with the tow truck driver), then Hertz arranged a train for us to return to Paris. We took pictures just before leaving the tow yard, the last time we saw the car.

Posted by
5775 posts

It couldn't be there wrong gas, because we never topped off as it had to be towed...

Ah, there's more here than first disclosed.

Two flat tires. Vandalism. Car was "towed"...

Did you witness the car being put on a flatbed? Did they tow it correctly? You know, there are lots of ways that "towing" a car could cause $2K in damage very quickly (transmission and brakes, never mind tires and wheels)...

Posted by
676 posts

as it had to be towed.

This sure would have been helpful information to include in your original post, rather than make people speculate on how/why you are a helpless victim. Makes me wonder what else you are not disclosing?

Posted by
5697 posts

Did you by any chance get a photo of the dashboard showing odometer and gas gauge when you handed the car over to the towing company ? Did Hertz select the towing company to be used ?

Posted by
11 posts

Laura, it didn't even occur to us to take a picture of the odometer. We called the Hertz emergency assistance number, and they sent the tire truck.

Pharmer, I did not think the tire incident had anything to do with the dunning letters and request to pay $2,000 without explanation. Hertz USA told me the dunning letter was in reference to a traffic violation. I wasn't trying to withhold anything. I'm sorry my approach was offensive to you.

Posted by
682 posts

Will admit i had to goggle 'dunning letter' have never heard that phrase before, thought it was a typo....

Posted by
5595 posts

My last several car rentals have included an offer over the counter that includes “wheel and tire coverage.” Alas, a car rental no longer includes an entire, operational, car!

Posted by
21334 posts

I suppose it would be unlikely to happen on a paved road in good condition, but I believe it is possible to do a great deal of damage to the undercarriage of a car if two tires are flat.

Posted by
2916 posts

Hertz USA told me the dunning letter was in reference to a traffic violation. I wasn't trying to withhold anything. I'm sorry my approach was offensive to you.

Don't worry. Some people are easily offended and nasty.

Posted by
2916 posts

My last several car rentals have included an offer over the counter that includes “wheel and tire coverage.” Alas, a car rental no longer includes an entire, operational, car!

I wonder when that started. On my last 3 rentals I took the Super No deductible insurance through AutoEurope, partly because it included coverage for wheels and tires, as well as glass. I didn't check to see if the steering wheel was covered:-)

Posted by
11 posts

Haha, thanks Robert! ☺️

Acraven, we didn't drive on the flat tires. We discovered them flat in the morning as we were about to leave.

Posted by
8436 posts

Robert, nothing nasty about PharmerPhil’s post. It is helpful for a 1st time poster asking strangers for help in understanding a situation to provide all information in the 1st post.

It’s better to get full, no-deductible insurance from the rental company directly - not through AutoEurope.

I’ve rented a lot of cars in Europe, often through AutoEurope. Last trip in Sept/Oct 2019 rented directly from Hertz at the Avignon TGV station. We were hit by another driver and the car was totaled. Luckily, we had purchased Hertz’s no-deductible insurance and could just walk away.

Two weeks later we rented a car through AutoEurope online and paid AutoEurope for no-deductible insurance.

When we picked up the car at Europcar, i mentioned to the employee that with the full coverage, no-deductible insurance we could just walk away no matter the damage, correct? She said no.

She explained that because i bought the insurance from AutoEurope, any damage to the car would be a €2,000 charge to my CC. When AutoEurope re-imbursed Europcar for damage to the car, then my CC would be credited back the €2,000.

I was ticked off that AutoEurope has never made that clear to me in the 19 yrs i’ve been renting through them. (Of course it’s in the microscopic 2 page text in the contract).

Luckily, no damage to the Europcar, but it was good to now know how it actually works.

From now on, i’ll rent online through AutoEurope but wait until i pick up the car and get the insurance directly from the rental company.

Thank gawd that’s what i had done for the car that was totaled (not knowing the difference at the time), can’t imagine how much they could have charged us for a totaled car before getting re-imbursed by AutoEurope.

Posted by
11 posts

Just a quick update, for anyone interested. After contacting the collection agency and providing a synopsis of everything that has happened, and copying Hertz France, I FINALLY got a very apologetic response from Hertz. They are working to resolve, but in a nutshell they said the $2,000 request was an error and that other work was done on the car that was unrelated to the flat tires or my rental, and that it was incorrectly billed to me. The collection request has been cancelled, and they are calculating the actual cost to fix the flat tires. Light at the end of the the tunnel! For those of you who offered thoughtful and constructive insights, I truly appreciate your kindness.

Best regards,
Steve

Posted by
21334 posts

I'm so glad the mystery has been solved. I was afraid it was going to drag on a lot longer.

Posted by
5697 posts

Glad to hear that all your follow-up work paid off!

Posted by
3714 posts

What a relief! This is a prime example of the potential of being charged for and pressured into paying for something you didn't owe.

Good on you for pursuing the matter and getting it straightened out. Many would've been intimidated and paid. Human error can rear its ugly head anywhere and sometimes it's hard to recognize whether something is hinky or not.

We had a similar incident when we returned a car at Schipohl. There was a scratch on one of the wheels. Dolts that we were, we didn't look at the wheels when we rented it, so we didn't know if it was there then or if we'd somehow done the damage.

The over zealous young man taking in the car told us that the charge would be about €700 to replace the tire and wheel. And that the credit card holder would have to sign a form admitting guilt and pay that amount then and there.

My husband who knows a bit about cars, knew that the fee was way over the replacement cost. He asked what would be done with the tire and wheel that was replaced. The young man couldn't answer that question, so my husband said that he wanted them.

Silence. The young man was dumbstruck. My husband told him that if he was going to pay for the tire and wheel, he wanted them as souvenirs of the trip.

While this was going on, I called our credit union Visa people for advice. They told me not to sign anything or pay for anything. They would email me forms to fill out online and return to them.

By the time I reported this to the young man, he'd regained his composure and returned to his arrogance about the charges. He said it really didn't matter if my husband signed the form or not, they had his credit card number and could charge him anyway.

We went on to our apartment in Amsterdam. I got the email, filled out the online paperwork for the incident and sent it back.

A week later we flew home. A few weeks after that, we got the bill. It had not automatically been charged to my husband's Visa, and it was the equivalent of about $150. Oh, over zealous young man, so wrong in so many ways!

You can be sure that in addition to the normal thorough examination we do, including pictures, we have checked the wheels on every car we've rented since then, in Europe or the US.

Posted by
6734 posts

Great conclusion and great story about the wheel.

We learned the hard way too how diligent you have to be when picking up the car. When we insisted on documenting every ding on a car at FCO Rome, the herz clerk suddenly magically came up with a stamp that said 'no scratch smaller than 5 cm will be charged' for the paperwork. He got tired of having to mark each tiny scratch. We once paid for damage that was 'nothing' when we took the car, but became 'damage' when we returned it so learned our lesson.

In Hawaii a couple of years ago I saw a couple of tiny scratches on the bumper and went and got the clerk to check out the car, but I didn't tell him 'tiny scratches'. He hunkered down and looked under the front and said 'Wow -- it looks like about $1500 damage to the undercarriage -- the last guy must have taken it off road, and the insurance won't cover that.' If we had not had him look it would have been OUR $1500 although we did not go off road.

Photos may or may not help but documenting damage on the actual paperwork does work and is vital. Also always keep your gas up receipt to demonstrate you returned the car gassed. We have had to deal with that twice after the fact, once in the US and once in Europe and having the receipt ended it each time.

Posted by
89 posts

I’m glad it worked out for you Steve.
Excellent story about the wheels. I have noticed that as a trend in US car rentals, trying to charge for curb scrapes on rims. Check very carefully and take before photos.