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Dealing with a mistaken collection notice

Posted by Mitch Lipka  June 25, 2013 02:51 PM

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Q. I received a collection notice for an unpaid ticket in Washington, D.C. in April 2011. The notice indicates I was driving a Buick and listed a D.C. license plate number and driver’s license. Here’s the problem: I wasn’t in D.C. in April 2011, I’ve never driven a Buick, and I have a Massachusetts driver’s license. I called the collection agency and they indicated I need to provide a notarized document from the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles proving this ticket isn’t mine. I tried, but couldn’t get through to a real person and couldn’t contest the ticket online. While I realize paying $65 is probably easier than fighting the system, it’s the principle. My perfect credit score has been downgraded by 100 points. How do I solve this dilemma?

Timothy J. Burr, Rutland

A. Fortunately, I had a bit better luck reaching the folks at the D.C. DMV. They didn’t make it easy, but they did provide a path out of this mess.

First, they scolded you about not surrendering your license plates when you lived there more than 20 years ago. “He let them expire; therefore, legally, he is still responsible for the license plate,” Vanessa E. Newton, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, wrote in an email.

She said they mailed notices about the ticket to the last address they had for you, from which you had moved from more than 20 years ago. Then they turned it over to a collection agency. Collection agencies are far better, it seems, in tracking down someone’s address than a motor vehicle agency.

Now, you have to prove it wasn’t you, and it wasn’t your car. Then you have to convince a hearing officer this was a case of “excusable neglect.”

This is another example of just how important it is for consumers to at least once a year get a free copy of their credit history from the official AnnualCreditReport.com site. It’s always better to catch a mistake or learn that you’re being charged for something that makes no sense so you can get it taken care of – before you get rejected for a credit card, mortgage or car loan.

And apparently it’s good practice to surrender license plates when you move.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com

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