Thursday, February 24, 2011

Proven Innocent?

Today, I forwarded the paperwork from DMV to FasTrak/ACS. Evidently, this proves my innocence in the eyes of FasTrak. The friendly ACS employee promised to immediately remove my name from the 116 toll violations, and reassign them to Vili Sitani, who is the registered owner.

But that is where FasTrak/ACS wants to stop. They do not want to prosecute the criminal who stole my identity to commit fraud. They don't want to turn evidence over to the police unless they receive a subpoena. They are a for-profit company, and have no motivation to prevent ID theft or fraud, as long as someone pays the fines. This is why private companies should never be allowed to enforce laws.

About 2 weeks ago, I dropped in at the CHP office in Redwood City, to see if they could help or give me some advice. Coincidently, the CHP officer at the front desk had received a toll violation for a used car he bought. The previous owner crossed a bridge in the morning without paying the toll, and sold the car to the officer that afternoon. FasTrak/ACS sent the toll violation notice to the officer because they consider him responsible for the car for the entire day that the "release of liability" was filed with DMV. The officer explained the situation to FasTrak/ACS, but they refused to send the toll violation notice to the previous owner.

This CHP officer understood my trouble, and went far out of this way to help me. The most important thing he did for me was restore my faith in all the good principled people who stand up for what is right. I hope his FasTrak troubles are resolved soon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Truth from DMV

I've been asking for this information for about 4 weeks, and now I finally have it. I thank the eight people at DMV, CHP, and SJPD who verbally confirmed that I don't own this vehicle. But it is good to see paperwork from DMV proving that the registration is not in my name. The owner is Vili Sitani. Tomorrow, I will forward this document to FasTrak. They have promised to remove my name from all the toll violations after they receive it. But I'm not finished yet.

FasTrak/ACS collects over $15 million dollars each year in toll violations, which goes to Bay Area Transit Authority. I can't imagine what it would be like working at FasTrak, and have the job of collecting tolls violations from people who want to cheat the system. FasTrak employees must be trained to lie to the liars, and to scam the scam artists. They lied to me when they claimed that DMV provided my name and address as the owner of this vehicle. They could have contacted DMV themselves to get the correct information, but they did not. Because the information never came from DMV. 

How many people have been victims of this scam? How many people don't fight the fraud, and just pay the fines? Will FasTrak cooperate, and provide the fraudulent document to the police? Or will they continue to protect the criminals who stole my identity and committed this fraud? 

I want answers. I want FasTrak/ACS to be investigated and punished for doing nothing to stop this fraud. And I want to see the criminals prosecuted.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Rights vs Privacy Laws

During this experience, I've learned that:
1) California has some very strict privacy laws (such as Civil Code section 1798)
2) There are a lot of good people out there who want to help me
3) These people can't help because of the strict privacy laws
4) These laws are protecting the criminals who stole my identity and committed fraud

But, according to the State of California, I still have rights.
The state has this website to help me.
The federal government provides a form to help file a police report.
There is even a form letter to send to FasTrak/ACS that will force them to send a copy of the fraudulent document to the police.

Let the battle begin.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Paranoid Conspiracy Theories

My nightmares make more sense than this situation does.

Today, I confirmed that DMV has no record of a REG 138 form that would transfer liability into my name. So the REG 138 that FasTrak has (with my name as the buyer) is a complete fraud.

I don't know what is going on, but have some theories:

1) The registered owner is a criminal, and still has the vehicle. He gave a fake REG 138 to FasTrak with my name as the buyer on it. He crosses the bridge twice a day, thinking he can fool FasTrak and get them to blame me.

2) Same as 1) except the registered owner has a pair of fake plates that he uses just when he crosses the bridge, just to make the story more interesting.

3) The registered owner is a fool who sold the vehicle to a buyer who is a criminal. The buyer never went to DMV to complete transfer of ownership, but started crossing the bridge twice a day, thinking he can fool FasTrak and get them to blame the registered owner. FasTrak sends the bills to the registered owner, who then is told by FasTrak he needed to file a REG 138. The registered owner doesn't know the real name of the buyer, so he commits fraud and identity theft when he writes my name down as the buyer on REG 138, and delivers the form to FasTrak to get them off his back.

4) Same as 3) except the buyer really has the same name as me, but the registered owner doesn't know his address. The owner finds my address in the phone book, and is stupid (or evil) enough to use it as the buyer's address on REG 138, and delivers the form to FastTrak. I know there are at least 6 people with my name living in the area.

5) Same as 4) except the registered owner is old and got someone else (like a daughter or a son) to find the address. They found mine and used it on REG 138, gave it to FasTrak, etc.

6) The fraud is happening at DMV to allow someone to cross the bridge without paying.

7) The fraud is happening in FasTrak/ACS to allow someone to cross the bridge without paying.

8) Same as 7) but there is no vehicle with this license plate crossing the bridge, and FasTrak is just making this all up to rip-off citizens like myself.

9) The truth is too strange to even imagine right now. (The most likely scenario!)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Root Cause

Finally, I know. Today, a friendly ACS employee told me the whole story.

When you sell a car in California, the seller is required to file form REG 138 within 5 days, and you can actually complete it online here. You enter the license plate number, the seller's name and address, and the buyer's name and address. The state then considers the buyer responsible for any traffic violations. The buyer is required to take the title to DMV within 10 days to complete the transfer of ownership.

Toll violations originally were sent to the registered owner. But then, the registered owner put my name as the buyer on a REG 138 and gave it to FasTrak, who never checked to see if I really was the buyer. They just started sending me the bills for toll violations. How convenient for the registered owner ...

I don't even know if the REG 138 was ever filed with DMV. They don't notify the person listed as the buyer when liability for a vehicle was released to them. So, the system has no barriers or checks to prevent fraud. Anyone with an internet connection, anywhere on earth, can file REG 138 online and enter fake information.

What a disaster!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Nighmare in my Mailbox

In late December 2010, I received a "Notice of Toll Evasion" in the mail from FasTrak in San Francisico. Someone had driven through a toll booth on November 26th without paying. It was a Ford with California license plate 5UFE398. But I don't own that car, and never have owned that car, and I have never driven that car. Why should I pay toll evasion penalties from a car I don't drive or own?

First, I tried to call FasTrak. If you dial the number they provide on the "Notice of Toll Evasion", you get an automated phone tree, and no options allow you to speak directly to a person.

So, next I went to to see how I could make contact. They have a page specifically where you can contest a violation notice, so I filled out their online form, explaining I don't own the vehicle. I asked them to call me, and explain how they got my name and address. They did not call back, but sent an e-mail saying I still had to pay. They even disabled the online form so I could not repeat my request for a phone call.

Next, I thought that I would send a letter explaining the situation. So I filled out the "Contested Notice of Toll Evasion" on the back of the toll evasion notice, and sent it to the FasTrak office with my letter. They promptly replied with a form letter saying that I still had to pay the fine, or send them $29 for an "administrative review".  They also sent me a "Second Notice" of toll evasion, and added additional penalties, totaling $74.

On Friday soon after the second notice, I came home, opened my mailbox, and found it completely full of toll evasion notices from FasTrak. There were over 50. Each notice was for a different time that this vehicle crossed the bridge, starting around Thanksgiving. On most days, they crossed the bridge twice and never paid the toll. Each toll violation was at least $29. That was over $1500 worth of tolls and fines they wanted me to pay! And to make things worse, FasTrak was threatening "DMV Action"  if I did not pay, including stopping me from registering my vehicles, or renewing my driver's license.

Ironically, these 50 toll evasion notices had my last name spelled wrong, and stated the car was a BMW, even though the Ford emblem was clearly visible in the photo included with each notice.

Now I'm completely incensed by FasTrak's accusations, their attempt to block any due process without a $29 payment, and their strong arm extortion tactics. I called the number, and just held down the "0" in frustration. Magically, I was connected to a person. I was very angry, and got nowhere with them. They insisted that I was the owner of the vehicle, and said they would not correct the mistake unless I provided a "release of liability" from DMV for the car.

Monday I call DMV. After 30 minutes, I am connected to a person and I explained my problem. After telling her the license plate number, she tells me I don't own it, and I cannot get a release of liability. Because of state law, she cannot tell me who the registered owner of the vehicle is, either. Next I call the DMV investigations office in San Francisco looking for advice, and was told once again that I did not own the car. The investigator also confirmed that there should not be any confusion between my name and address, and that of the registered owner. Just fill out form INF-70 and send it to Sacramento DMV with the $10 fee to get the owner's name and vehicle ownership history.

Throughout the week, I have several conversations with people at FasTrak, and try to find an alternative solution to the "release of liability" they want. After several days of talking to me, they stopped the accusations, and started to return my phone calls. But, they claim to have "official paperwork from DMV" that states I am the owner of the vehicle. And they cannot send me a copy of that paperwork; I will have to subpoena the documents to get them. (The paperwork would explain a lot, and may prove someone is committing fraud to avoid paying tolls.)

But, if I can provide any documentation from DMV that states I am not the owner, FasTrak promises to exonerate me. I fill out the INF-70 form from DMV and send it to Sacramento to get the registered owner's name. But why can't FasTrak do that themselves? They refuse to try, and even refuse to contact the police.

Thursday I went to the DMV field office in Los Gatos thinking I would stand in line without an appointment, but was refered to the DMV investigations office in Campbell. The person there was very helpful, and directed me to file a complaint about FasTrak. They also provided the phone number of the DMV law office, and recommened that I try to subpoena the FasTrak file. This DMV investigations office had handled a problem like this before, but was overwhelmed with work and could not immediately handle the problem.

At the end of the week I get over 60 more toll violations in the mail from FasTrak, for a grand total of 116. Now the total amount of money they want is around $3500. Later, I noticed many of these were duplicates of the originals. They had just corrected the spelling of my last name, corrected the make of the vehicle from BMW to Ford, and effectively were double-billing me for many of the same toll evasions. I learn that FasTrak is run by a company called ACS State and Local Solutions, who is a private company contracted by the Bay Area Transit Authority and the state to collect tolls. I suspect their only incentive is to maximize the amount of money they collect for the State of California, and they are probably paid on commission. For this point on, I do not support any effort to privative any government function.

Monday, I went to see a lawyer to understand what it meant to subpoena the file, and how to do it. He said it would be cost prohibitive to use him to subpoena the file. His advice was to pursue a solution through DMV, file a police report, and consider contacting a consumer advocate in the media, such as "5 On Your Side".

Tuesday, my next stop was DMV, for an appointment that I had made when this all started. The information I got there wasn't any different than what I got over the phone. The DMV technician confirmed that I did not own the vehicle, and had never owned the vehicle. I asked him what police department I should contact to file a complaint about the registered owner. He said the police would send me back to DMV, and he gave me a copy of the form to send into DMV headquarters to get the name of the registered owner.

Just to see what would happen, I went directly to the San Jose Police department, explained the situation, and gave the officer a copy of one of the toll violation notices. He pulled up the information for the vehicle, and told me "You don't own that car!", and apologized for not being able to provide me with the name of the registered owner. He also refused to open a complaint because I did not have the paperwork that could prove fraud.

I have to stop here, but rest assured that I haven't given up. The pursuit of justice continues through other channels, and I hope this may get resolved soon. I'll let you know how everything turns out.