An Ontario man's minor billing issue with Hertz Car Rentals blew up into a dispute that could threaten his credit rating, prompting him to turn to CBC's Go Public.

In spring 2013, Alex Mejias and his family, who live in Courtice, were planning a three-week tour of Europe to celebrate his daughter's 15th birthday.

Before leaving Canada, Mejias reserved a rental car for the family on the Hertz website so they could drive from Paris to Barcelona before boarding a Mediterranean cruise.

They picked the car up in August and things went exactly as planned — or so it seemed.

'The customer service is like a firewall [that] will not let anything go through.' - Alex Mejias, Hertz customer

Mejias said he dropped the car off on time and according to Hertz's instructions. He asked the customer service desk for an invoice and was told it would be emailed to him.

It wasn't until he returned home that he noticed Hertz had billed him for three extra days

He said it wasn't a lot of money — $159.24 — and he tried resolving the issue through Hertz customer service.

"[It was] terrible, terrible. The customer service is like a firewall [that] will not let anything go through," he told Go Public.

"You call them and they say, 'OK sir, we will investigate and it will take a couple of weeks,' and you wait, and wait, and wait and wait — nothing happens. Eventually you receive a letter that tells you, 'No, your claim is not valid.'"

Read the full Hertz bill, with the disputed charges highlighted by Mejias

Mejias offered to send Hertz proof that he couldn't have had the rental car for those extra days he was billed, because he and his family were on a cruise ship on the day Hertz claimed he returned the vehicle.

But Mejias said customer service had no interest in seeing the documents that would prove his case.

American Express refunds extra Hertz charges

Mejias said his only option then was to go to his credit card company, a move that proved more successful.

"I disputed the charge through my American Express credit card and it was resolved in my favour so I received that money back," he told Go Public.

A letter he received from American Express said it credited Mejias's account because Hertz failed to provide the information needed to resolve the matter.

Read the full letter from American Express

Mejias thought that was the end of it. But a few weeks ago, he received a letter from a collection agency demanding the disputed amount.

"When I got that letter, it was like, 'What is this?' Obviously I got scared. What do I owe? I owe nothing to anybody... I pay all my bills on time. Perfectly."

Mejias said it's not about the money.

"My concern is my credit record. That's my only concern. I have a good credit record.... Having bad credit could harm you badly."

So, more than a year after renting the Hertz car, Mejias decided his only option was to pay the collection agency, thinking that would save his credit rating.

He did that just before Christmas, but he also contacted Go Public because, he said, he had been forced to pay money he didn't owe.

"I think something has to be done. A situation like this one cannot happen," he said.

Alex Meijias and his daughter - Go Public

Alex Mejias rented the car as part of a family trip to Europe for his daughter's 15th birthday. (Alex Meijias)

Hertz offers full refund, apology after CBC inquiry

When Go Public asked Hertz about Mejias's case, the company was quick to reply to our inquiry and agreed to investigate.

In a followup email to the CBC, Hertz's manager of corporate communications, Anna Bootenhoff, writes:

"After further investigation and with the cruise documents provided, we determined we made a mistake. It appears his return date was entered incorrectly into our system. We sincerely apologize for this error and the inconvenience it caused Mr. Mejias."

Hertz has offered to refund Mejias the money he paid the collection agency, issue 2,000 customer reward points to his Hertz account and send him a rental certificate worth $200 US for future use.

Read Hertz's full response to Alex Mejias and the CBC after Go Public's inquiry

"Please reiterate our apologies to Mr. Mejias. This does not reflect the high standard of customer service we pride ourselves on providing at Hertz," wrote Bootenhoff.  

Paying unjust debt can impact credit rating

The Credit Counselling Society gets hundreds of similar complaints from consumers who have been contacted by a collection agency demanding money they don't feel they owe.

President and CEO Scott Hannah said paying an unjust debt to avoid the hit on your credit rating doesn't really work.

"By paying, it also [implies] that you did owe it. And if you paid it through a collection agency, it's going to reflect as a paid account," said Hannah.

"Because it wasn't a large amount [in Mejias's case], it likely wouldn't have a big impact on his credit history report.

"But if this was a larger amount that could have more impact on his credit history report and his risk score and could impact his ability to borrow in the future, certainly in the short term."

Credit Counselling Society President and CEO Scott Hannah

Scott Hannah from the Credit Counseling Society said if a debt is not legitimate, paying a collection agency could make things worse. (CBC)

Instead, Hannah suggested if consumers can't get the company they are dealing with to fix the problem, they can fight the charges through the collection agency, advising it, in writing of the problem and providing proof the charges are wrong.

Hannah said all collection agencies are then legally obligated to investigate complaints.

"Just because a collection agency has called you saying this company states you owe the money, you still have a right and an ability to respond to that and say, 'This is my side of the story.'"

And if that doesn't work, both of Canada's two credit bureaus — Equifax and TransUnion — are also legally obligated to investigate consumer complaints. 

"In this case here, I would recommend that [Mejias] forward a copy of that letter from Hertz outlining that they made a mistake [and] what they intend to do and … then ask that any information on his credit report with respect to this incident be removed forthwith."

That service is free.

Hannah also suggests Canadians check their credit ratings at least once every couple of years if there have been no problems.

If consumers have had issues with creditors, he suggests they check credit reports once a year.

Equifax charges $15.50 and TransUnion charges $16.95 for a full credit report.


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