(WSVN) - A warning if you are planning to rent a car over the holidays: some customers say they have actually been accused of stealing cars they had paid to rent. Karen Hensel has tonight’s 7 Investigates.

Police officer: “Roll your windows down, put your hands outside.”

Police bodycam video shows the arrest of Saleema Lovelace for stealing a car in Philadelphia.

Police officer: “Keep coming back. Put your hands behind your back.”

The single mother of three can be heard telling police she was driving a rental car that she paid for, and she begs the officers to look for proof on her phone.

Saleema Lovelace: “The car is not stolen. If you take my phone out and go in my email, they sent me my receipt.”

Despite this, she was handcuffed and sent to jail.

Saleema is among hundreds who have filed claims against Hertz Rental Car saying they were falsely accused of stealing cars they had rented.

In Florida, a NASA employee was surrounded by police with guns drawn. He was cuffed and arrested in front of co-workers, accused of stealing a Hertz rental car.

Hertz later said it was a mistake.

Shontrell Higgs: “I was dressed in my nurse’s uniform, and I was sitting in the car.”

It also happened to Shontrell Higgs in Miramar.

Shontrell Higgs: “Seven police cars surrounding the car, and he was like, ‘Do you know this car is stolen?’ And I was like, ‘Are you joking?'”

Karen Hensel: “He put you in handcuffs?”

Shontrell Higgs: “He put me in handcuffs.”

Karen Hensel: “For a car you didn’t steal?”

Shontrell Higgs: “For a car I didn’t steal.”

Shontrell spent 37 days in jail. She says she lost her job, missed her nursing school graduation and had a miscarriage.

Shontrell Higgs: “Sitting in a cell, not knowing what’s next, and I’m telling them, like, ‘I have proof. I have the proof in my phone, it’s in my phone. All the evidence is in my phone.'”

That proof? Not only receipts but text messages between Shontrell and a Hertz employee who “…wanted to know when Higgs was returning the car to make sure it was not reported stolen.”

Shontrell confirmed it would be the next day at “the Fort Lauderdale location,” but hours later, she was arrested.

Barbara Fernandez: “I had already rented from Hertz so many times before, having a gold membership.”

Barbara Fernandez ran out to see her rental being towed in Miami.

Barbara Fernandez: “Nine officers showed up in different cars. We showed them the proof, the contract, you know, that I spoke with them every week to extend on the same Tuesday.”

But after an arrest warrant was issued in 2019, she was forced to turn herself into jail.

Barbara Fernandez: “You’re turning yourself in for a car that you did not steal. I’ve lost 40 pounds in the last three years, and it’s made me a wreck.”

Hertz issued a statement to 7Investigates Friday morning saying: “…we successfully provide rental vehicles for tens of millions of satisfied travelers each year.” And “Hertz has sent almost sixty confidential settlement offers to individuals who had a negative experience with our company.” “We are diligently moving through the individual claims as efficiently and rapidly as possible.”

So how does this happen? In a lawsuit against Hertz, one attorney blames a faulty computer system when rentals are extended, and he says his clients were never contacted by Hertz to let them know there was a potential problem.

Francis Malofiy, attorney: “There’s a huge difference between someone stealing a car and Hertz losing their inventory because they’re too cheap to fix their systems, and they want to shift that burden to the taxpayers and use the police as a taxpayer-funded repo service. It’s an abuse at every level.”

The issue has also caught the attention of Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who sent a letter asking the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation.

Blumenthal says Hertz “…has filed more than 3,000 stolen vehicle reports … each year for the last four years.”

Barbara Fernandez: “Shame on them. Shame on them for putting people through this situation.”

Shontrell Higgs: “It is so many people’s lives you are destroying.”

Hertz has settled some of the false arrest cases, but many are still making their way through the courts.

In court filings, Hertz says that any claims of systemic failures by the company are meritless and baseless.

Hertz full statement to 7Investigates: “Hertz cares deeply about our customers, and we successfully provide rental vehicles for tens of millions of satisfied travelers each year. While we remain steadfast in our commitment to defend the company’s interest against those that intend harm, we also want to do right by our customers. Hertz has sent almost sixty confidential settlement offers to individuals who had a negative experience with our company. These settlement offers are not exhaustive. We are diligently moving through the individual claims as efficiently and rapidly as possible and look forward to continuing to make progress towards reaching resolutions.”

CONTACT 7 INVESTIGATES:
305-627-CLUE
954-921-CLUE
7Investigates@wsvn.com

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