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Call Kurtis: State Taps Woman’s Tax Refund To Pay Ticket That Wasn’t Hers

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RIO LINDA (CBS13) — Bonnie McSweeney said she has never been to San Mateo, but Fastrak said otherwise.

The Bay Area agency tasked with running electronic toll booths sent McSweeney a ticket — dated months after she’d sold the car — for driving the car through the toll plaza in San Mateo.

“I’m really, really irritated,” she said.

McSweeney sent Fastrak proof she’d sold the car to Carmax and a release of liability form she had submitted to DMV — but a few months later got another surprise.

The State Franchise Tax Board was intercepting her tax refund to pay for the ticket and late fee.

“That’s when I really got angry,” she said. “Eight months later, and it’s still not handled.”

Fastrak told a CBS13 producer it transferred the ticket to Carmax when it got McSweeney’s paperwork, but the agency said Carmax disputed the ticket as well, saying they weren’t the registered owner.

CBS13 has learned dealers like Carmax are not required to register vehicles in their name before reselling them in California. Instead, dealers operate as transfer agents between consumers.

Despite McSweeney’s release of liability — she was still the last registered owner on DMV’s books.

McSweeney shouldn’t have to pay the ticket, said consumer attorney JR Parker of Sacramento law firm Kershaw, Cutter and Ratinoff.

He said the current owner of the vehicle — registered or not — is the one responsible.

“If [Carmax] don’t own it, who does?” he said. “There’s no way [McSweeney] can be responsible for a car she does not legally own,” he said.

Carmax told CBS13 it couldn’t find any record of communication with Fastrak, but confirmed McSweeney no longer owned the car when the ticket was written.

Fastrak admitted, however, it made a mistake in transferring the ticket back to McSweeney.

“The investigation by MTC and Bay Area Toll Authority staff instigated by your inquiry showed that there was an error in transferring the violation from Carmax back to Ms. McSweeney,” an agency spokesman said. “Because there was a discrepancy in the document received from Carmax, the violation should not have been transferred back to Ms. McSweeney.”

After we got involved, Fastrak apologized and sent McSweeney a refund check.

“To most people that’s probably not a lot of money, but here it is,” she said. “It’s a lot of money for me.”

When consumers sell a car in California, they must send DMV a release of liability. McSweeney kept a copy, which is exactly what DMV recommends people do when selling a car.

To protect yourself even more, you can bring that paperwork to the DMV and get a stamp on it, as proof it was filed.

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