Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Caveat Donator: Pars Secundo

I previously wrote about an incident where my husband and I received a lien notice. in October of 2013, against an auto we had donated and had not seen since the previous February.

Here is the location of the original entry:

In the meanwhile, I am putting the takeaways here, right at the top. That way, if you don’t have time, or otherwise don’t want to read this story, you can go away having been completely and utterly informed by this article. Don't worry if these takeaways seem unrelated; you'll thank me for this information later.


#1 - DO NOT DONATE CARS! If you want a group to benefit by a gift from you, sell the old clunker you have for parts, file all the paperwork yourself, and hand the group a check. Read farther down if you want find out why this is better.

#2 - Transparency means that everything organizations and institutions don't want you to see is farmed out to a contractor, where the opaque becomes more opaque; no one you need to talk to is reachable by phone; you can’t get a report in under 4 weeks, though the data is all digitized; and no one is accountable to the truth but you.


As I mentioned in that previous article, I sent $20.00 to the DMV to get the history of the car, so I could prove I no longer was responsible for it. This was indeed the best $20.00 ever spent. I received the documents in November; they proved we no longer owned the car. I collected these, along with everything else I had relating to this odd incident, into a file. I had already returned the lien notice to the DMV indicating I had no interest in the vehicle and was not the owner of it. I waited for the other steel-toed boot to drop.

Last Thursday, we received a call from a collection agency. Clunk. That was the other boot.

The collection agency was calling to tell us our credit rating was at risk if we didn’t pay a bill for towing and storage of the vehicle we no longer owned. I explained we had a release of liability and that we never saw the vehicle once it was towed away from our home, and further, we had never received a bill from anyone and expected to pay nothing.

I faxed documents over to the agency and the woman called back to say that their legal advisor would look it all over and call me to let me know what the resolution was.

Tuesday morning, after a holiday weekend, the call came. The documents I provided were insufficient, I was told—we would still be obliged to pay. I reiterated that I had never seen a bill from anyone, and had no idea how much money was involved. We are not legally obligated in the matter of this car, I yelled into the phone; this is a matter of public record! I asked the woman to fax me all the information pertinent to their case. (They are actually required to do so, by law.)

The more I thought about this, the madder I got. How in the world did this happen? I called the donation center that handled the car and left an urgent message, asking for a return call. I emailed Consumer Action with my story, asking for advice.

Then, I started doing research on the web. What was up with this collection agency?

Well, what was up is that they have an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau. The complaints I found on Yelp resonated with what I was experiencing. Interestingly, this company had been named in a class action suit against a consumer credit reporting agency that allegedly disclosed consumer credit scores to that collection agency and possibly others, in clear violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, so that consumers could be targeted based on their financial vulnerability. Lovely. The collection agency settled with plaintiffs out of court. Well, you know what that means…


Knowing there was no reason for me to be charged for the towing and storage of someone else’s wrecked car, it was time for me to play hardball back. I drafted a very terse note to the general manager of this agency:
We have been receiving phone calls from your collection agency regarding an automobile (VIN # -------) that we have not held title to since February 5, 2013. This is a matter of public record through the Department of Motor Vehicles, to which you may apply for verification.

We find it curious that we are receiving phone calls from a collection agency when we have never received an invoice or a collection notice. We can only conclude that you are making a fraudulent claim against us on behalf of your client.

If your office persists in harassing us in a matter that does not concern us, or if our credit rating suffers at your hands, we will take legal action. In the meantime, we shall be contacting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the FTC regarding your activities.


I sent this missive by certified mail on Thursday, January 23rd.

Friday came and went. Nothing was faxed to me by the collection agency.

The Consumer Action people got back to me with advice, and the donation center spoke to my husband, who forwarded all the documents pertinent to them.

Saturday, we received a bill from the collection agency, our first contact by mail. The amount they want is nearly $3,000.00. This bill was dated January 13, 2013, but was obviously sent overnight, possibly retro-dated, to cover for the fact that they had forgotten to send us a bill. Most things sent from that ZIP Code to ours come overnight or in two days. The reason they had to send this is that, by law, they are not supposed to communicate with us by phone until we have received something in the mail in writing from them. The postmark on the envelope is January 24th.


We are surrounded by technology, and everyone and their brother seems to have access to my information, yet that is somehow insufficient to prove something as simple as “we haven’t owned the car since February that was involved in an auto accident the following October”. We still have to push the paper around. Even though we have pushed paper at them, they persist in their quest.

Okay, the way we read it is that the bottom feeding collection agency is in collusion with the towing company to work one kind of fraud. But we realized there is probably another kind of fraud going on here, and it has to do with the auctioning of vehicles.

When we organized the documents from the DMV in the order in which each event took place, we realized that after the car was auctioned in late February, to the person or company whose address is in Mexico, there was no more paper trail. This is significant, and I will tell you why: if the car was purchased by a Mexican concern, one would assume it was taken to Mexico, particularly as there was no further registration of the vehicle.

However, the car was being driven by California resident in October. Where did that person get the car? And why didn’t the seller properly release liability and transfer title?

Such an occurrence cannot be an isolated one. If it happened with the car we auctioned, the potential is great that many vehicles purchased at auction are being resold without transfer of title.

The implications are chilling. How many people have purchased autos that subsequently disappear from the system? How many similarly unregistered vehicles are on the road, even as we speak, with drivers who are uninsured, possibly even unlicensed? Such “ghost” vehicles not only endanger us if they are involved in accidents, but these cars could be also used in the commission of crime. These vehicles, subsequently abandoned, are virtually untraceable to any person but the last person who registered the vehicle before it was sold.

Fortunately, in our case, no one was injured in the accident involving the car.

We are not done with this story, Morning Glory. We don’t know what will happen next, although we are hoping the case will be closed. Will we have to go to court? Stay tuned...

In the meanwhile, here are those takeaway messages, one more time:


#2 - No one is accountable to the truth but YOU.