KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Forrest Clopton shelled out about $100 last November for a limousine tour of the holiday lights.
“It was kind of neat,” he said. “It was exciting."
A good memory until this June, when Clopton noticed a $1,048.15 charge on his bank statement.
It was a debit card charge from that same limousine company Clopton hired and paid for in November, plus this latest charge was more than 10 times the original amount.
Clopton immediately called the limousine company to dispute the charge.
“I called the same number I called the first time and nobody answered,” he said. “I left a message. No response.”
He finally reached someone via a Facebook message to the company’s page.
“They said they would credit the money back,” Clopton said they told him it was “a system billing error.”
Clopton found that difficult to believe since he owns his own company and uses the same credit card service and has never had an error of that size. Plus he knows that when errors do occur, they can be corrected almost instantly.
But three days later, the bogus charge had still not been credited back to Clopton’s account.
Clopton’s not alone in his frustration. Chelsea March used that same limo company to reserve a party bus and limo for her wedding this coming November.
After making a down payment of $172.64, the remaining balance of $725. 98 was not due until the day of her wedding – four months from now.
“All of sudden I get a notice that my account is under $25," March said. That balance that wasn’t due until November had been removed from her account.
March also had difficulty reaching someone at the limo company.
“Called them, no answer,” March said. “Can not leave a voicemail because the voicemail was full. I leave an email 'hey, what is going on? Why is this happening?' No response."
So who is this limo company with the bogus billing?
It’s Kansas City Limousine and Party Bus, which according to an invoice also goes by Kansas City Limousine Tours, a division of DTA Holding.
However, none of those entities are registered with the Secretary of State’s Office or have a local business license. The owner is listed as Jeff Lee, but even that was a dead end.
That was until we knocked on the door of John Bell, whose home address was linked to one of the company’s phone numbers.
Bell told us that he owns his own limousine company and pays Kansas City Limousine and Party Bus to book rides for him.
“He books limos for me,” Bell said. “He takes the phone calls and the credit cards.”
Bell said the owner’s real name isn’t Jeff Lee, but Jeff Lee Harris.
Harris used to run Trinity Limousine until two years ago when he was accused of overcharging people’s credit and debit cards. Now two years later, Harris has reappeared as a booking agent, but the credit card problems seem to be following him.
We reached Harris by phone. He told us that two years ago, he had a drug problem but now he’s clean and runs an honest business. He couldn’t explain why Clopton was bogusly billed more than $1,000 but said the money is being returned to his account.
As for March, he said company policy had recently changed requiring customers to pay for a reservation in full in advance. However, he acknowledged that March should have been told this before the money was removed from her account.
Since she has cancelled her reservation, he promised us he would give her a full refund. He also promised to register his business with the city and the state – as required by law.
Harris’ promises don’t hold much weight with either March or Clopton who have reported his company to their banks and asked for a fraud investigation.
This story is an important reminder to know who you are booking when you call a limousine or party bus company. Ideally, you don’t want to use a booking agent, but call the owner of the limousine directly. That way you determine whether he’s licensed and insured by asking for the Department of Transportation authorization number.
To verify the information, input the number here: http://www.safersys.org/CompanySnapshot.aspx