USAA And Mastercard Turn Celebrity Librarian Into Unwitting Consumer Scofflaw

K.G. writes that she used her Mastercard to pay for a car rental from Avis. The card issuer, Consumerist darling USAA, assured her that the card provided insurance coverage for rental cars. Good to know! Except for how the insurance claim was denied, possibly because she used a coupon for the car rental. No one is entirely sure. The bill went straight to a collection agency without ever giving K.G. an opportunity to, um, actually pay it. Now she’s being penalized for ducking a bill she was never sent, and still can’t get a straight answer out of any of the companies involved.

She posted an open letter to all three companies on her blog.

Dear USAA, Mastercard, and Bill Collector…

Or as I think of you at the moment, Larry, Moe, and Curly…

Yes, I will immediately send $641 to the collection agency to settle my “debt.” But in the meantime I will use my bully pulpit to vent about a year of being jerked around.

First of all, I have a great credit rating and plan to keep it that way, which is why that I am just paying up. I consider myself wronged, but I preen over my credit rating and will not let the Three Stooges sully it.

Second, this is to you, USAA: if you are going to have a credit card that offers insurance coverage for rental cars, then make sure it’s a real service. Because the day I rented that car from Avis, a year ago, I called and asked, and was assured, yes, I would be covered. I trusted you as I have trusted you since 1985, when I was a second lieutenant with a used Pontiac Fiero (bad judgment on my part, but I digress).

In fact, I was dorked around for a year, and then last week received a collection-company notice (without having ever seen an actual bill), and then received a notice that my claim was denied (read on about that), and then received a second collection-agency notice, as if I were some scalawag and not someone who pays bills on time quite assiduously.

Third, Mastercard, thank you to the anonymous person who warned me back in September 2009, after I dinked my rental car and naively sent in the paperwork, thinking that hey, I’m covered, that the process would be much longer than I anticipated. Whoever you are, you spoke truth to justice. My only comment is that you prolonged hope where I should have had none.

Fourth, Mastercard, you win. I sent in the same paperwork over and over and over and over and OVER again for a year, and every time asked for a confirmation that it was received, only to hear deafening silence, and then would get another request for the same information. I spent way over $641 in personal time repeatedly sending you the same material. After a while I began to wonder if you expected to wear me down or if I would lose this information and give up. I never gave up, not until you sent a message — AFTER I had been contacted by a bill collector! — that my claim was denied.

Why was my claim denied? You pointed (last week! After I received the collection notice!) to an arcane rule that because I had used a coupon to rent the car, I wasn’t entitled to a credit, even though I had upgraded the car so in theory it wasn’t free… and I had used my Mastercard… but never mind. You had an entire freaking year to offer me your lame excuse.

I never got an opportunity to just pay Avis the $500. I never got that bill. My experience went from paperwork nightmare to Criminal Consumer.

Mastercard, you plastic Satan, I will take that credit card and violate all local environmental laws to burn it on our deck in full view of God and San Francisco.

USAA, I wrote and called to ask for your help. You are a terrific insurance company. You sell a lot of other financial services. Based on this experience, I plan to avoid anything you sell unrelated to insurance, and when it’s appropriate, I’ll divest myself of your credit cards (which for the record I clear off every month). The left hand clearly doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Collection agency, I don’t know who is doing your mail-merge, but mailing me twice in a week, the second time to threaten me, “We do not understand your lack of attention in this matter,” feels a little OCD. I realize your office is “prepared to proceed with further collection in this matter,” but at least let me get out my checkbook. Because at this point I will be thrilled to make all of this go away.

USAA, I also don’t understand why I am being billed for more than my deductible. It’s not that much more, so perhaps I should just pay it and keep blogging about how unhappy I am with your credit card services. Since I can’t get a clear answer via email or telephone on any of this from any of the companies making my life miserable, if you have a response, please use the comment field below.

Hey, Avis, I don’t fault you one bit. I do ask that you understand that I wasn’t trying not to pay you. I was just taking advantage of a “card member benefit” that turned into a nightmare. I’ll know better next time and either pay extra for full coverage or not bother with a “benefit.” Or I won’t go for the $99 upgrade on a “free” car and that will mean I get the smaller car I don’t scrape when I pull into a very small garage on Lombard Street.

It’s enough to make a person just throw up their hands and buy insurance from the car rental agency. Maybe that’s the master plan here.

Turning a less ranty version of this letter into an executive e-mail carpet bomb would be an excellent move at this point. Good luck.
Dear USAA, Mastercard, and Bill Collector… [Free Range Librarian]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.