Big Brother wasn't watching...but you have to pay your tolls anyway

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If you're not paying your tolls on the Illinois Tollway, watch out! And if you think you're automatically paying them, you had better make sure that you are.

Leslie Boudreau found out the hard way what happens when you don't pay. She thought she was paying with her I-PASS, the in-car gadget that is supposed to automatically pay your toll as you pass by each open road tolling facility. She had her pass linked to her credit card, and the system is set to automatically bill the credit card when the pass needs to be filled again.

Leslie's pass wasn't being refilled, and she ended up with $179.50 in unpaid tolls for the last year. She's now gotten a notice that is demanding $4,619 in fines for non-payment of the tolls. If she doesn't pay in two weeks, the amount could go up to $15,739 because of quickly escalating fines that go along with the unpaid tolls.
Why did it take so long to catch up to her? Simply put, the tolling system was broken. A computer glitch meant that no one got notices for over a year. Now they're getting huge bills from the state.

The system is supposed to send a driver a notice after three unpaid tolls. Except the system wasn't sending anyone a notice for 13 months! Leslie and others who received large fines say if they would have gotten timely notices, they would have resolve the problems with their I-PASS devices right away. But the law says the state has the authority to fine drivers for up to two years' worth of unpaid tolls.

The are so many problems with its "new and improved" tolling system, that the state has no idea how much money is owed or how many others are getting away with not paying tolls. Yet apparently the tollway officials say the system is just fine and has only minor problems.

Wonder what state officials think of tort laws? Bet the class action lawsuit system ain't broken, either.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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