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    Consumer Alert

    E-ZPass presents difficulties

    Q. I have been a Fast Lane (now E-ZPass) pass holder since Day One, and have my funds drawn automatically from a credit card. It has never been a problem. That is until I planned a trip to North Carolina. Not knowing how much I would have to pay in tolls, I called E-ZPass to request that information. They apologized for not knowing, but said I should have plenty of credit on my account to avoid problems and they charged my card $125. It ended up costing a fraction of that in tolls. So, I asked for a refund and was told no. I have been using about $25 in tolls a year and don’t know why the state should hold onto my money.

    William Downey, West Roxbury

    A. It seems as though something got messed up in that initial conversation. If someone told you to deposit $125, it clearly wasn’t a recommendation grounded in reality — or even common practice.

    Mike Verseckes, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said that confidentiality rules prohibit him from discussing specific accounts or what happened in this case. However, he said, E-ZPass generally recommends having $50 in your account when you are traveling out of state, noting how expensive some New York City river crossings are. It can cost up to $10.25, for instance, to cross the George Washington Bridge using an E-ZPass.

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    For those who don’t have automatic credit card billing to their account and prefer to replenish their E-ZPass as needed, the $50 rule should still cover out-of-state travel. In this case, given that you have an automatically replenishing account, there is really no good reason to have charged your account all that money.

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    E-ZPass does make it seem a bit scary, saying that it can take at least three business days to credit your account when you are traveling out of state. But you would have to try really hard to drive on a lot of toll roads and cross a lot of bridges in a short amount of time to need $125.

    Fortunately, after I reached out to try to straighten this out, E-ZPass refunded the excess funds due to the confusion in this case.

    Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers for two decades. He also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at Consumer News@ aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.