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DES MOINES, Iowa – A rental car company is being sued by attorneys who claim customers across the country were charged fees they didn’t understand or agree to.  A woman visiting Iowa was charged more than $2,000 in such fees.

Caixia Lai flew to Des Moines from China to watch her son graduate from college. She stopped at Dollar Rent-a-Car at Des Moines International Airport, handed the agent her agreement, signed her name and drove away. She didn’t realize that her credit card had just been maxed out.

The Priceline agreement clearly showed $385 was the charge for insurance. Dollar tacked on $1,400 for additional insurance, the kind the receipt warns customers they are not required to purchase. Despite the language barrier, Caixia said she could not have been clearer. She explained that she told the agent, “No change.  Just this (Priceline agreement). No change. (The Dollar agent) told me, ‘Okay.  Okay.  Alright.’”

Caixia’s total was supposed to be $1,177. It ended up being more than $3,500. She said she didn’t realize it until she arrived at her son’s apartment in Ames.

“It’s (an) obvious cheat,” said Caixia.

A man who is suing Dollar Rent-a-Car in two federal courts claims that Caixia’s case is just one example of a pattern of deceptive business practices. John Mattes said it’s happening in “dozens and dozens of airports, (to) thousands and thousands of people, millions of dollars we allege have gone into the pockets of Dollar Rent-a-Car and Dollar Rent-a-Car knows it.”

Mattes’ lawsuits claim that Dollar employees “illegally dupe customers into signing up for… car insurance, and other added services that consumers do not want and/or have specifically declined…”. He said, “(Caixia’s) example is egregious because of the amount that was defrauded.”

Caixia’s son, Liu, called Dollar to try to get a refund, but he said company representatives explained to him, “That there is no way to return this insurance charge because my mother already signed her name.”

On the day the car was due to be returned, Channel 13 News went along with Caixia and her son to give Dollar Rent-a-Car a chance to do the right thing.  The Dollar agent who finalized Caixia’s agreement wasn’t working at the time.  Another Dollar agent admitted that, had she seen the Priceline agreement, she would not have charged Caixia for the additional insurance.  Employees from the Hertz (Dollar’s parent company) counter addressed the situation.  It turns out they can issue a big refund.  More than $2,500 was refunded to Caixia’s credit card.

Liu said, “And now we only pay $983 total.”  Caixia added, “I can’t believe (it).  Thank you (for) all of your time and your help.  Thank you very much.”

Channel 13 reached out to Dollar and Hertz.  We received the following statement from a corporate communications manager:  “We are very pleased the situation was resolved with the customer you referred to. Thank you for your assistance and for bringing the issue to our attention.”