HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro today filed a lawsuit against a former Erie County resident and his limousine rental businesses for charging customers exorbitant undisclosed fees for unrelated travel costs in a multistate scheme.
The Attorney General said Matthew C. Barnes and his limousine rental businesses, Barnes Professional Limousine Service LLC and Walten Point Productions LLC, violated Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
After Barnes quoted a price for his limousine services, Shapiro said he later charged them extra hourly fees for the rental vehicles’ travel to and from its warehouse. If customers disputed the inflated charges with their banks, the Attorney General said Barnes charged them $500 for each attempt to get their money back.
“This limo operator told customers he would help them travel in style, but he was just taking them for a ride,” Shapiro said about the complaint filed in Erie County Court of Common Pleas. “His use of undisclosed fees and unauthorized charges racked up outsized bills for Pennsylvanians, and it’s why I am seeking restitution for consumers who fell victim to his dishonesty.”
The lawsuit alleges that Barnes operates his businesses in Florida through websites that offer limousine rental services in different cities in Pennsylvania, Florida, Louisiana, and other states. To fulfill contracted services, Barnes hires third party companies that own their own limousines and employ drivers. Barnes is believed to not own any limousines, nor have any employees.
While the language regarding the extra travel costs is not clearly defined or disclosed in Barnes’ contract, consumers are required to provide a copy of their credit or debit cards and grant him authorization to charge their cards. They are also required to pay in full prior to the date of service.
“I was taken advantage of by Matthew Barnes, simply trying to rent a limousine for a bachelorette party. Barring him from doing business in Pennsylvania will help so many others avoid being scammed,” said Moira Nee, a Pittsburgh-area consumer who had to pay $1,600 for a limousine rental originally quoted at $400. “I appreciate AG Shapiro stepping in to protect consumers and working to get these bad actor companies shut down and money returned to those who were taken advantage of.”
“These women just wanted to celebrate a night out before wedded bliss, but they were less than blissful when hit with hidden fees and charges,” Shapiro said.
Attorney General Shapiro is seeking restitution for all affected consumers and is asking the court to order Barnes to:
- Stop operating a vehicle rental business;
- Stop his practice of charging consumers’ credit/bank accounts for any type of goods or services; and
- Pay civil penalties of $1,000 for each violation of the Consumer Protection Law, and $3,000 for each violation involving consumers aged 60 or older.
Anyone who feels they were victimized by Matthew C. Barnes or any of his businesses is encouraged to file a complaint at www.attorneygeneral.gov/submit-a-complaint or contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection: 800-441-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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