Helping Win Hearts & Minds on
the Battlefields of Online Media
ScamBrat's Posting to
Better Business Bureau

Salesman Bobby C. exhibited fraudulent business practices on two different rentals. I initially rented a car from Bobby C. at XYZ Car Rental on 12/30/14. Upon driving out of the lot I noticed that my gas tank was only 1/4 full. I didn't think anything of that since I have rented cars before from other companies with less than full tanks when I took the car. I returned the car one week later to Bobby C. with half a full gas tank. He told me that he was going to charge me $6.25 for every gallon that was missing. I told him that I rented it with only 1/4 tank full and brought it back with more gas than I rented it with. He was not having it and told me that my contract said that the tank was full when I first rented it. I told him that was not true, but he then showed me the contract that showed a full gas tank, which I did sign for. By now, I know that I was being scammed but I went and filled the tank up myself instead of having him charge me $6.25 per gallon, since gas was only $3 per gallon or so.

I then went back to XYZ Car Rental on 1/20 to rent another car and spoke with Mark, who was helpful. I told him the bad experience I had with Bobby C., and Mark apologized. This time, I made sure that the tank was full and signed the contract and drove away. I returned the car on 1/29 to Bobby C. with a full tank of gas. Since I didn't trust him, I followed him around the car when he inspected it upon my returning it. When he sat in the driver's seat to check the mileage I was standing outside and noticed that he took something out of his right pants pocket with his right hand and dropped it on the passenger side front carpet. He got out of the car and told me that he was charging me for smoking cigarettes in the vehicle.

First off, I suffer from an incurable illness which causes me to have a weakened immune system, as well as suffering from asthma and severe allergies to cigarette smoke. All this will be documented by my doctor and lawyer. Not only can't I smoke because it can actually cause me to go into anaphalactic shock, but I cannot even be around anyone who is smoking for the same reasons. The second reason this is a lie is because I had just finished filling that car up with gas, and while the gas was pumping, I vacuumed the carpet to make sure the car was clean. I did not sign the receipt that Bobby C. gave to me and walked out and contacted my lawyer who advised me to call my credit card company to report this, which I did.

On Monday, I will be meeting with my lawyer and have already made an appointment with my doctor to get a note confiming everything I am stating here is true about my health and medical conditions. If I don't receive a full refund within 10 business days and Bobby C. isn't fired, then we will then be filing a civil suit against XYZ Car Rental and Bobby C. for the $419.51 that I was charged as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damages which my lawyer is going to calculate with his firm. Once that is filed, we will then contact the media.

Response Case Study:

ScamBrat Tries to Intimidate Company
into Giving Him a Free Ride

    A person we call ScamBrat submitted this posting to our client XYZ Car Rental's Better Business Bureau (BBB) page in making a complaint.

    In communications battles, the party establishing the most credibility wins. ScamBrat tells a long-winded story full of lies and distortions, trying to establish credibility through detail and passion. Finally, at the end of the screed, we see what he's really after: a free ride.

    Although it may seem obvious that ScamBrat is a deadbeat trying to hustle a car rental company for a free rental, it'd be a mistake to believe that ScamBrat fully discredits himself. We cannot count on the general public to see as clearly as we do. We must also account for a psychological principle called the Sleeper Effect, which says that after a fairly short period of time, people remember the message but forget the source. In this case, for example, people will remember Scambrat's accusations (at least on the vague level of sleazy behavior), but will forget they came from a conniving scamster.

    Thus, it's important to respond here, as it is to most negative messages, and try to neutralize the impact at the source.

    An important goal in a situation where demands and threats are made: Do not give people the impression that you can be threatened, bullied and blackmailed. This is doubly important when this kind of communication turns up on a major review site. You must respond and make it clear that you cannot be intimidated. Many predators are out there looking for soft underbellies. A weak response will encourage them. It many even provoke them.

    In our response below, we make it clear that XYZ Car Rental is going to stand its ground: "It's not going to work" and "That's not going to happen no matter...." This is reinforced by the threat of a potential lawsuit and the overall tone, with the extended metaphor of a child throwing a tantrum in reference to ScamBrat.

    XYZ Car Rental's Response

    This is a temper tantrum ploy to get out of paying a car rental bill, the way a child might try to get out of cleaning up the mess he made. It's not going to work. He tells this pouting long-winded story about being allergic to cigarette smoke and that some car rental company went through the trouble of planting false evidence just to ding him for a $50 clean-up charge for smoking in the car (a policy he specifically agreed to by initialing the clause in our contract). We offered to waive the $50, even though we had to pay for the detailing and take the car off the market for two days. But that's not good enough: He also doesn't want to pay the $342.71 fee for his 11-day rental of our Kia Forte, as well as $133 for two parking tickets he got while renting from us. That's not going to happen, no matter how big a hissy fit he throws or how many silly threats he makes. And if he continues to tell naughty lies, he may get himself spanked with a lawsuit.

    XYZ Car Rental has been serving Big City USA for 30 years as a small independent company, with two locations in East Big City and West Big City. The many thousands of happy customers who've rented from us enjoy our low rates and friendly, helpful service, and that we pick them up and drop them off. One way we're the same as nearly every other car rental company in the world is our fuel policy and surcharge. Because fuel is a significant expense, especially when we offer such low rates, we track it very carefully. As every adult who rents cars knows, you need to "fill'er up before you bring 'er back," or pay a lot more per gallon for us to do it, because we're not a gas station pumping thousands of gallons a day. We don't even have fuel on our premises, but must take the cars to a gas station. The fuel level and fuel policy is always explained at the counter and the clause culled out and initialed by the customer on the agreement.

    Note that while the tone of this response is strong, even harsh, it does not wallow in defensiveness or flash anger. It stays above the fray. The extended metaphor of a child with a temper tandrum shows deliberateness and even playfulness.

    We use specificity as well to establish crediblity, e.g., 11-day rental of our Kia Forte. We break out the costs and show that ScamBrat's monetary demand includes two parking tickets, evidence of what a deadbeat he is—at least to people who assume they're responsible for their own parking tickets. (And what car rental company wants customers who think otherwise?)

    The offer to waive the $50 was strategic: We knew he wouldn't accept it, because that's not what he was after. But being able to say in our response that it was offered and rejected greatly diminishes ScamBrat's credibility and adds to our client's.

    Importantly, we take the opportunity to deliver key marketing messages, letting people know that XYZ Car Rental: 1) offers low rates and great service because it's a small independent, 2) picks up and drops off its customers, 3) has two locations, 4) has been in business 30 years, and 5) has served many thousands of happy customers.

    Given all this, who are you going to believe?

    Finally, we wanted to deal with the fuel surcharge issue because ScamBrat spent so much time on it in making his case that XYZ is a sleazy company. The gas surcharge is something that car renters generally accept, but some may not fully understand. If left unaddressed, it could work against our client.

    Note that we make no attempt to address ScamBrat's specific allegations. That would be defensive, not to mention confusing.

    So with the fuel surchange issue, rather than get into a lot of detail, we simply discredit ScamBrat within the total context of our child's temper-tantrum metaphor: As every adult who rents cars knows... And we appeal to readers' hearts and minds: 1) we're no different than any other car rental company; 2) we watch and track fuel like hawks because it's a critical expense; 3) our employees drive the cars to a gas station to refuel (so damn right it costs a lot more to have us refuel your rental), and 4) smart people make sure they refuel before they return the car (and who doesn't want to think they're smart?).

    Very sensible, isn't it? Again, this explanation does not address the specific accusations, facts and lies in ScamBrat's narrative. Because who's going to carefully absorb and remember them anyway? This is the court of public opinion, not the court of law. People are going to make their topline judgment, and come away with a topline message, based on who is more credible.

    The Result: XYZ Car Rental never heard from ScamBrat again, not even a whimper. No lawyer filed a lawsuit. No reporter called wanting to do a story. ScamBrat didn't even attempt a charge-back with his credit card company.