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The Boston Globe

Business

Consumer Alert

Mix-up shows importance of checking credit reports

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?

TIMOTHY J. BURR, RUTLAND

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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. “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 e-mail.

She said the DMV 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 loan.

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

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.

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