Partners in Prevention: Vehicle Rentals and Vehicle Ramming

The FBI, DHS, and TSA—in coordination with the Truck Renting and Leasing Association and the American Car Rental Association—have released a short training video to help vehicle rental employees identify suspicious activities and behavior by customers who may wish to use a rented vehicle for nefarious purposes.

Video Transcript

Michael Sullivan: I'm Michael Sullivan, the assistant director of the Office of Private Sector with the FBI.

Brian Harrell: I’m Brian Harrell, assistant director from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. We appreciate you taking the time to watch this video. 

Sullivan: Regardless of whether your company rents cars, trucks, short-term rentals, or specialty vehicles, you, the front-line employee, play an integral role in helping to identify and protect our nation against terrorism.

Harrell: According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism, or START, in the two-year period between 2016 and 2017, there were 19 vehicle-ramming attacks against innocent civilians around the world, injuring over 650 people and killing an additional 127. In nearly 40 percent of those attacks, the vehicle was rented from a vehicle rental company.

Sullivan: This video will show you basic indicators, or tripwires, to watch for that’ll help you recognize suspicious behavior that might be part of pre-operational planning for a terrorist attack. You’ll also learn how to gather information on suspicious individuals and how to report it to your company’s management or to law enforcement.

Harrell: You can make a difference in helping to prevent terrorism from impacting your friends, your family, your colleagues, and fellow Americans. We thank you for being a partner in prevention.

(Sounds of a parade)

(Sounds of screeching car tires)

(People screaming, sounds of car hitting people)

Narrator: As a front-line employee at a vehicle rental company, it is important that you know what to do if you encounter a customer who may desire to utilize a rental vehicle in a criminal matter, such as the event you just saw.

While the following scenario may constitute perfectly lawful and explainable actions, in some cases, they might indicate something more nefarious. Certain indicators, or a combination of indicators, could warrant additional scrutiny of the customer, in accordance with your company’s policies and procedures. If you believe there is a strong likelihood that a vehicle will be used to do harm, consult your corporation’s policies for denying the rental and for appropriate notification protocols to corporate security and law enforcement. If safe to do so, gather important information and documents such as: 

  • A description of the individual
  • Why the encounter was suspicious or alarming
  • Rental agreement documents and identification documents provided to you by the customer
  • Information on any associates present with the customer, and
  • Any information regarding how the customer departed the counter, whether it was in a vehicle, on foot or using public transportation

Narrator: Now let’s watch a vehicle rental scenario which you might encounter. Look for suspicious activity and behaviors that may be present, and ask yourself, “What would I do?”

Rental Employee: Here’s your contract, your keys. Any questions?

Customer: No.

Rental Employee: Thank you. Have a good day. Thank you.

Rental Employee: Hi, good morning. My name is Alex. How can I help you today, Mr.????

Customer: Hi Alex. I’m Frank. I do not have a reservation, but I need to rent a vehicle.

Rental Employee: That’s fine. May I have your driver’s license please?

Customer: I, uh, just lost my license, but I do have a temporary issued from the DMV. Will that work?

Rental Employee: Let’s see here. Actually, do you have a second form of identification? It could be a passport, insurance card, an old pay stub maybe?

Customer: No, I don’t. Sorry.

Rental Employee: That’s all right. Let me see what I can do, Mr. Frank, okay?

Customer: Thanks.

Rental Employee: So are you from the area, just visiting, or what?

Customer: Oh, just visiting.

Rental Employee: All right, that’s nice. Where you coming from?

Customer: California.

Rental Employee: I love California. I’m so jealous. What part?

Customer: Uh, Sacramento.

Rental Employee: Okay, Sacramento. I’ve never been, but it’s funny you say that. My husband and I, we’re going next month. Wow. Is it nice?

Customer: Yeah, I’d say it’s a pretty great place to live.

Rental Employee: And I don’t mean to pry, it’s just that my husband and I are going, I figure I’d mention it. Any good restaurants that you could possibly recommend?

Customer: I don’t know. They’re all pretty great.

Rental Employee: You know what, let’s just get back to business. So, your temporary driver’s license is from Illinois?

Customer: Yes, I’m moving there and I haven’t gotten my permanent license yet.

Rental Employee: I see, I see. So everything on here is correct?

Customer: Yes.

Rental Employee: Okay. So, what type of vehicle are you looking to rent today?

Customer: I need to rent a van or small box truck for a few hours. Something that has a decent amount of ground clearance.

Rental Employee: If you don’t mind my asking, what are you transporting exactly? I just want to get the right vehicle for your needs.

Customer: I just need to run errands for a few hours. Something that has a lot of space for all my stuff. 

Rental Employee: I see. Let’s see here. It looks like the largest vehicle we have is a minivan. But the good thing about this vehicle is you’ll be able to maneuver just fine in the city.

Customer: I’d really prefer a box truck. 

Rental Employee: Okay, let’s see what we have. I’m sorry; it looks like that vehicle is not available.

Customer: All right. Do you know how many gallons of fuel a minivan can hold?

Rental Employee: I am not quite sure about that, but I can always go check.

Customer: No. No. Don’t worry about it. Can I pay cash? I’ll only need the vehicle for a few hours, and it’ll be easier for me.

Rental Employee: Well, we will need a card associated with the contract at the time of rental. But if you want to pay cash when you return the vehicle, we can always do that.

Customer: Yeah, that’s fine. I guess that’ll work.

Rental Employee: One more piece of information. May I have your email address and phone number, please?

Customer: Sure, my email is My phone number is (717) 555-6789.

Rental Employee: Okay. Do you need directions or anything?

Customer: No, I’m great, thanks.  

Actually, do you know if there’s a parade still going on downtown today? I heard there’s going to be a lot of people there and it’s something I should see. 

Rental Employee: I’m not quite sure about that, but let me go check. If you would just excuse me for a moment, I’m going to make copies of your ID, and I’m going to gets print for your contract and your keys. It’ll just take a couple moments. Need anything? Water?

Customer: No.

Rental Employee: I’ll be right back.

(Sound of knock on manager’s office door)

Rental Employee: Hey, boss. Can I talk to you for a second?

Okay. So I have this customer who is acting very, very strange, and he’s giving me some questionable information. So?

Rental Employee: All right, Mr. Frank. Sorry for the delay. I just spoke with my manager, and she advised me that your temporary driver’s license is just not sufficient. So, unfortunately, we will not be able to rent you a vehicle.

Customer: What? This is perfectly legitimate, and you said it would be fine. 

Rental Employee: I’m sorry, sir.

(Sound of hand hitting counter)

Rental Employee: Have a great day.

Rental Employee (to self): It’s not even a real email address.

Rental Employee (to FBI Agent #1): He just got in the car that was sitting out front there, and they went around the corner.

FBI Agent #1: Do you have any indication of where he was headed?

FBI Agent #2 (on the phone): Hey, boss. We just received a tip from a rental car company related to that case I’ve had for about a year now, on Frank Roberts.

Yeah. It looks like he’s trying to go operational with his plan.

Oh yeah, I think we finally have enough evidence to take him down.

Narrator: While this scenario contained many red flags for suspicious behavior, no one thing may constitute anything out of the ordinary. But taken together, you may determine there’s a strong likelihood that a vehicle will be used to do harm. If so, denying a rental is the right thing to do.

But if you’re not sure, we once again urge you to follow your company’s protocols for notifying corporate security or law enforcement.

Your company thanks you for your efforts. Your local, state, and federal law enforcement partners thank you, and your nation thanks you.

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