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Jen Firneno’s husband, Ralph, was driving the family’s 2003 Honda Accord through the O’Neill Tunnel in August of 2020 when a truck bumped the back of the vehicle. The Honda, registered in Jen’s name, spun out and crashed. It was a total loss.

Rattled but grateful that no one was hurt, they gave little thought to the car’s license plates when they examined the wrecked Honda at the State Police Tunnel Barracks in South Boston, where the vehicle had been towed.

In retrospect, perhaps they should have, because somehow one of the plates wound up on another car and for months Jen Firneno was being billed by EZPass for trips on the Massachusetts Turnpike that she never took. It was small money — less than $50 to date — but it led to a year of frustration and fear that perhaps the car sporting her old plate could be used for something more nefarious than evading tolls.

Firneno repeatedly contacted EZPass, the electronic toll collection system run by the state Department of Transportation, to say that someone had stolen her license plate and was using it to avoid tolls on the pike.

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For about a year, Firneno, 54, of Arlington, a health care worker, bounced among EZPass, the State Police, and the Registry of Motor Vehicles, spending long hours on the phone trying to get it resolved. Nothing worked.

There was an easy solution to the problem, but the people who could have told her about it — state employees, all — apparently didn’t do so. All she needed to do was fill out a form at her local police station saying that her plate had been stolen.

After she contacted me, I spoke with a source who is familiar with motor vehicle regulations. He told me about the form.

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“If anyone had told me about that form, I would have filled it out and been done with this whole thing long ago,” she wrote in an e-mail to me. “Argh.”

After the crash, the Firnenos didn’t recall if the front plate was still on the car and Jen Firneno doesn’t remember if anyone at the RMV asked about it when she canceled the registration.

Then, three months later, the first bright orange envelope arrived from EZ Pass demanding payment, indicating that her old license plate number had been recorded as it passed through a toll gantry in Brighton.

Firneno got a receipt from the RMV showing she had canceled the registration and furnished it to EZPass. Not good enough, she was told. You need a police report.

“A plate cancellation receipt is not acceptable documentation,” EZPass wrote. “Until a police report is submitted and accepted, customer remains responsible for the amount due.”

It would have been nice if someone at EZPass had spelled out the process for Firneno, but all she remembers being told was to get a police report saying the plate was stolen.

Firneno called the State Police, and after being bounced around, got someone who offered to add a one-paragraph notation to its administrative journal saying she reported her plate as stolen.

“Mrs. Firneno called to report losing her license plate during a crash,” it said. (The fact that someone was making unauthorized use of it, to me, meant it was stolen, not lost.)

But the one-paragraph notation didn’t help either.

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Later, Firneno said an EZPass representative told her that, if she paid the balance due, she would get no more invoices. So she paid, thinking $47.20 a small price to end the bureaucratic nightmare.

It didn’t. The invoices kept coming.

She said no one mentioned that there is a specific form to report a stolen license plate.

It’s actually the same form for reporting a stolen motor vehicle, with a box to check if only the plate was stolen. It must be signed under penalty of perjury and submitted to police.

I got a blank form at my local police station and sent a copy to Firneno.

By then, however, I had explained the situation to EZPass, which investigated and ultimately credited Firneno’s account for her past payments before she even submitted the form.

Here’s the takeaway: If your license plate is stolen, use the form available at police stations statewide to report it. Doing so may save you the kind of trouble Firneno faced.


Got a problem? Send your consumer issue to sean.murphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.