Man billed for car donated 5 years ago

Man continuously billed for car donation

January 18, 2012 7:23:30 PM PST
You've probably seen the commercials urging you to donate your used car to charity. A Half Moon Bay man did that, but five years later, he was being billed for charges on a car he no longer owned. That's when 7 On Your Side stepped in to help.

"See I just don't believe you. I believe you're not telling me the truth," said Paul James.

James was on the phone with a debt collector, one that has been hounding him for weeks. The Half Moon Bay man received a letter in October demanding $3,185 in storage and towing costs for the car he no longer owns. This time, James was armed with a letter from the DMV to the debt collector that 7 On Your Side helped him get.

"It shows that we donated the vehicle on March 24," said James.

That was March 24, 2006 -- a year before the towing charges were incurred. The DMV letter concluded in a blunt matter, "Therefore any collection actions taken to recover towing and storage cost from your company should cease."

We discussed his case with attorney Ron Wilcox of San Jose who specializes in debt collection. He agreed to look over the paper work.

"They're basically going after the wrong guy, the guy that donated the car, despite the fact someone else owned the car and was driving it after that," said Wilcox.

Back in Half Moon Bay, James faxes the letter he received from the DMV to the debt collector company, Lien Enforcement. He gets back on the phone with the company and told them, "I would assume that whatever copy the DMV sent to me would be satisfactory to you, since they are the authority, not you."

Lien Enforcement says the DMV letter was not good enough. It demanded that James send them certified copies of the original paper work.

"At that point you would think the creditor would back off. Sometimes they don't and it appears in this case they're not backing off," said Wilcox.

The DMV agreed to send James the certified paper work. A release of liability clearly shows James donating the car on March 24, 2006 -- 15 months before the towing charges happened. Lien Enforcement refused to comment specifically on James' case, but said it needed the proof before moving on. It finally dropped its collection efforts and had no further comment.

What saved James in this case was getting a release of liability. Whenever you sell or donate a car, make sure you get a release and keep it on file. Even if the buyer or a charity offers to do it for you, ultimately it's your responsibility.