So bad it Hertz. Here’s an interesting question. If I make a statement to an insurer that contains false or wrong information, my claim can be rejected, and if it is serious enough, legal action can be taken against me — such as if I claim I suffered whiplash in a crash that clearly did not happen, or the crash was staged, or my subsequent post-claim activities revealed no discomfort to the level I claimed.

But if a large company makes similar claims and cons its customers into paying for damage to a product used by the customer that did not occur, what should happen?

Yesterday the ACCC revealed it had forced US car rental giant Hertz to repay customers for some particularly egregious examples of rip-offs and gouging.

Here’s what the ACCC said in its statement:

“From 2013 to August 2015, Hertz represented to some of its customers that the vehicle that they had hired was damaged during their rental period, when in fact the damage was pre-existing. Hertz incorrectly invoiced and charged these customers for the vehicle damage.

“Hertz also represented to some customers that the amount that they were charged to repair certain vehicle damage was Hertz’s actual repair cost, when in fact Hertz received repair discounts that it did not pass on to customers.

“Hertz has acknowledged that its conduct was likely to have contravened the Australian Consumer Law prohibitions on misleading or deceptive conduct and false or misleading representations, and has provided a court enforceable undertaking to refund affected consumers and to take other steps to address the ACCC’s concerns.”

From January 2014 and August last year, Hertz refunded 283 customers about $243,000 in total. On the question of cheaper car parts, Hertz is refunding, or has refunded, $152,000 to more than 700 customers. Many of these customers are yet to be identified and contacted about the refund, according to the statement.

In essence, Hertz was forcing customers to cover the past of repairs to Hertz-owned vehicles, when no payment was required, and also dunning them for higher cost products when Hertz was sourcing them more cheaply.

A statement from Hertz said the company has invested significant resources to address the concerns about its “historical procedures” for vehicle damage charges.

Now if you or I made an insurance claim that was found to be wrong, fraudulent or claimed too much, not only would we be in trouble and possibly not have our claim paid, but we would find it tough to get insurance from another company because of the way these insurers pass around client information.

So can anyone explain how Hertz has been able to get off without nothing more than a largish fine and an enforceable undertaking, but no charges or any thought to test the claims to see if the company defrauded customers? — Glenn Dyer

Nine’s self-inflicted woes grow. The Voice, The Block, the NRL Grand Final and the three rugby league State of Origin games will help the struggling Nine Network as it battles the harsh reality of following Ten down the awful ratings route and the lowest prices the shares have been since re-listing back in 2013. But those Nine urgers who have been running a solid PR campaign for the network and denying the importance of the 2016 ratings slide to the network’s downturn in fortunes should take a look at the Sydney ratings last Friday night, when the network lost probably the safest weeknight in a rugby league season to Seven in Sydney. In the most important TV market in the country, especially for rugby league, Nine lost, even though it broadcast an NRL game, Gold Coast v Brisbane. While that wasn’t a big attraction in Sydney, it did well in Brisbane Nine easily won the night. That win isn’t the point — it’s the loss in Sydney that has confirmed a big chink in Nine’s most important winter programming.

Nine brought forward its new deal with the NRL and Foxtel for the rugby league coverage (even though there were two years left to run on its current contract, which gave it exclusive coverage of its three free-to-air games each week — two on Friday nights and one on Sunday afternoon). Part of the new broadcast deal was to share coverage with Foxtel, which Nine sold for $25 million a year in to the new contract. In its haste to get its hands on the cash, Nine agreed to start the deal this season. In doing this, Nine made a calculated decision to split the two Friday night games (one usually involving at least one Sydney club for Sydney and regional NSW, and one game in Brisbane involving a Queensland team for that market and the rest of that state). Nine therefore won Friday nights in Sydney and Brisbane every week the NRL was on. Nine moved straight to the split envisaged in the new contract this year  — one game now broadcast on Thursday nights — and a single game on Friday nights. Last week that backfired. The Thursday game — Manly v Souths (an ideal game for Friday night in Sydney) had solid ratings and Nine won Sydney and nationally. But the second on Friday night produced an upset loss because of the two Queensland teams involved — the Gold Coast and Brisbane teams. On Friday night that rebounded badly against Nine.

In Sydney Nine had a total people share of 27.5% share, Seven, 28.8%(including the digital channels), a very rare win in winter when the NRL was being broadcast. The main channel loss was even more galling because that is where Nine broadcast the NRL game. There, Nine averaged 19.5%, Seven, 22.1%.

Nine’s shares hit a low of $1.08 in trading yesterday — the lowest level since the company re-listed on the ASX in late 2013. The shares ended yesterday down 23.7% at $1.16. The drop wiped $315.5 million from Nine’s market capitalisation, with the broadcaster now worth just over $1 billion. Seven West Media’s shares fell 10.5% to 89.5 cents as investors panicked in the belief that Nine’s revenue slide was industry-wide and not home-grown at Nine (which it mostly is). Seven is now worth $1.35 billion — a significant gap on Nine. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey