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  • Robert Weed

Can a Debt Collector Call Itself “Law Enforcement Systems”?

I think it’s an FDCPA violation for a debt collector to call itself Law Enforcement Systems.

Couple years ago, one of my bankruptcy clients brought me a bill from an outfit called Law Enforcement Systems.

Law Enforcement Systems is a debt collector for the 495 express lanes.

Law Enforcement Systems is a debt collector for Transurban, the operator of the 495 express lanes.

The bill was for $100.65. That’s 65 cents for a toll they say she didn’t pay. And $100.00, that’s apparently an administrative fee. This happened on the 495 Express Lanes, privately financed toll lanes on the Virginia side of the Washington beltway.

I said, “that’s a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  (FDCPA)”

The FDCPA makes it a Federal violation for a debt collector to make an “implication that nonpayment of any debt will result in the arrest or imprisonment of any person.” That’s at 15 USC 1692e(4) Calling themselves Law Enforcement Systems is certainly an “implication” that you can be arrested if you don’t pay up.  And the penalty for that violation is up to $1000. It’s payable to you, the consumer!

The FDCPA only applies to debt collectors, not original creditors. Law Enforcement Systems is collecting for the company that operates the toll lanes, so that’s clearly covered.  The toll lane operator is Transurban (USA) Operations, Inc.

It has to be for a “consumer debt.” That’s a debt for “personal, family, or household purposes.”  Now a traffic ticket might not be for “personal, family, or household purposes”–but the toll is. She was driving her car to get to work. Getting to work is a personal purpose.

Alexandria Federal Judge James Cacheris agrees with me on this.  At least if you had an E-ZPass account, the toll is a consumer debt.  Judge Cacheris said, “Plaintiffs have not in fact committed a toll infraction, but rather Transurban has simply neglected to collect the toll at the moment of entry.”  Brown v Transurban.

I took a look at Code of Virginia § 33.1-56.3.  It makes it clear that not paying a toll is NOT a “violation.” It’s NOT a violation as long as you “made arrangements…for payment.”  I think that’s why Judge Cascheris says it’s a consumer debt, as long as you had an E-ZPass.

What I did. Why I’ve stopped.

In the 2014 and 2015, I’ve helped about a dozen people to claim their rights are under Federal law.  With the class action pending in Alexandria, there didn’t seem to be room for me to do any more. I had to stop. At least for now.

TransUrban Settles Class Action. Lots of people have griped about the $100 fee that gets added to the tolls–and I’ve said I didn’t know how to fight it.  Some lawyer in Alexandria and DC did go after them in a class action, and won $10.00.  That’s $10.00 for each person who paid the $100.00 fee–more if you paid over $300.00.  Up to a total of $1,350,000.00.  TransUrban also promised to be more fair in the future.

That illustrates why some people like class actions and some people don’t.  One one hand TransUrban promised to be nicer in the future.  On the other hand, what’s the point of a ten dollar settlement?

I should say I thought it was impossible, but they won.  The Washington Post wrote about it, here.  Here’s more of what Judge Cacheris decided.

If it looks like the problem continues into 2017, I may come back to this. I don’t think the issue with Law Enforcement Systems is complete resolved.   

PS  Here’s a copy of my fee agreement. It explains, as clearly as a lawyer can explain, I only get paid by them, if we sue and win. Never by you.  LES FDCPA Agreement.  And here’s an Example of a collection letter from Law Enforcement Systems, that I think is an FDCPA violation.  

PPS  It look to me like the Law Enforcement Systems letter also violates 15 USC §1692g.   The right to dispute does not have to be in writing.  (LES says “in writing.) And if there is a written dispute, the debt collector “will obtain verification.”  That’s completely missing.

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