Ani Istanboulian returns her Hertz rental in “perfect” condition, but three weeks later, she gets a call from the company and a bill for $428. What happened?

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Q: I am writing to you today regarding a damage claim I have received from Hertz. I rented a car from the Maui Airport Hertz location earlier this year. I did not do an initial walk-through with an agent to check for damage. Upon my return, I circled the car with a Hertz attendant and returned it in perfect form, and off I went.

Three weeks later, I received a call from Hertz claiming that there was front bumper damage and I would be charged $428. This is completely absurd. I absolutely did not damage the car, and returned it in perfect condition.

Hertz is saying that I will continue to receive calls and that the claim will remain active — an inappropriate threat for a customer who didn’t do anything wrong. Since this appears to be a recurring issue with Hertz, is there any way you can assist me in resolving this matter?

— Ani Istanboulian, Los Angeles

A: Hertz shouldn’t have sent you a bill for damage you didn’t inflict on its car. But there were a few things you easily could have done to prevent this.

First, the Maui Airport Hertz location is outdoors, right across from the main terminal. There’s plenty of good light to take a “before” and “after” photo of the vehicle, which would prove your innocence. Even better: Ask an employee to do a pre-rental inspection. Note any existing damage (even the smallest dings, dents and scratches). If the car is too beat up, request a different one.

My point is, Hertz should have inspected your car both before and after — and you should have photographed the car both before and after. Had you done that, we wouldn’t be here now.

But here we are.

The damage claim is suspicious for several reasons. Three weeks is too long for a claim to be filed. Heck, three minutes is too long. The Hertz representative who checked you in should have seen the damage (if it was there) and asked you for your insurance information. The other red flag: The amount of your claim, which is less than $500, is the deductible on most car insurance. It looked as if Hertz wanted you to pay out of pocket without getting your insurance company involved.

Those two factors were enough for me to get involved in this case before I even had a paper trail. (Getting a credible paper trail is pretty easy; I list Hertz’s customer-service contacts on my consumer-advocacy site:

I contacted Hertz on your behalf, and it dropped its claim against you. Why? The company spoke with the representative who checked you in and verified that you’d been given the all-clear.