tv NBC Bay Area News Special NBC April 1, 2017 6:30pm-7:01pm PDT
chase them for bills they have never even seen. >> shocked and didn't know what to say. >> one man's $25 traffic fine ballooned to $1200 and he cave paid nothing at all. we will tell but a consumer proks protection law that many don't know exist. >> came out one morning and my car was gone, towed. >> he says his car was wrongfully toed. and he says he 4 proof. what happened? we asked those same questions and got results. >> i got zero. >> large companies pay huge fines, but money rarely goes to the consumer. so who gets it? we investigate. >> i didn't think it was fair because the situation was very unusual. >> and she canceled a vacation for health reasons. the federal government each encouraged her to stay home. but her airline wouldn't refund her. so she turned to us for help. here's consumer investigator chris cmura. >> good evening, welcome to our nbc bay area responds special.
we launched our center nine months ago with a promise to help you, our viewer get money back when you were wronged. we are happy to report we have covered nearly $650,000. $40,000 of that is the result of our first story tonight. more than two dozenviewers wounds up in a dent collector's cross hairs. they said there must have been a mistake but got nowhere. instead they were labelled financial deadbeats even though they never even got a chance to make the first payment. >> i was in so much pain. >> reporter: an ambulance rushed anna gonzalez from work to the hospital. >> and i remember the right. it was so bumpy. >> reporter: that was more than two years ago. but back in july, anna got a letter from a debt collector called credence demanding almost $1600 for the ambulance ride before she had ever seen a bill. >> nobody contacted me, you know. i sent them my insurance, you
know, information. you know, why haven't they done anything? >> that's exactly what i'm going through. >> reporter: kim wong was in a car crash at this san jose intersection more than two years ago. he also recently received a demand from creedens for $1600 that he supposedly owed to the ambulance company, rural metro. >> i was shocked because i never had any news from rural metro about a bill or anything. >> reporter: 25 bay area consumers have told us the same story. more than 70 people contacted our sister station in san diego. they also received a notice from the debt collector before they ever saw a bill. and after it was too late to file an insurance claim. >> they hadn't processed it through insurance and it was an unpaid bill they dumped on collections. >> reporter: we asked the ambulance company for an explanation. it declined our request for an interview n. a statement, a spokesman acknowledged an error
though he wouldn't tell us how many people were mistakenly sent to collections. he said the billing issue resulted from a processing change. >> that was the only way out. >> reporter: crudence saw a pattern to people's objections and stopped collections. credence then said it returned the portfolio of accounts to mural metro. we forwarded the 25 complaints we received to rural metro. a specialist reviewed each one case by case and closed all of them, erasing almost $35,000 in debt, including anna's $1573 balance. >> oh, thank you very much. i appreciate it. you know? it's one less bill, you know, to worry about. >> reporter: and why wim
congress's $1655 balance. >> i'm just happy about it and i'm glad that i have told you guy zps that you guys know because you guys have helped me completely. >> reporter: getting those debts erased was only half our mission. next we needed to make sure each patient's credit report was clear. we pressed rural metro and credence about whether this billing error would stain people's credit reports n. a statement, the credence compliance officer said on the rural metro accounts we inquired about it did not credit report any of those accounts. that's reassuring news for kim who actually made a payment to the debt collector to protect his credit score. >> if you have a bad credit score it will affect everything in your life. >> reporter: anna is also relieved her credit history is clear. >> thank you for having this program, you know. >> reporter: but she is questioning what would have happened if we hadn't spoken up for patients like her. >> why couldn't we do this on our own.
we just closed another two cases bringing the total amount we recovered to $40,000. credence called this kind of mistake rare. rural metro told us it instituted new procedures to make sure it doesn't happen again. we asked pleural metro if it sent out a blanket statement about the mistake. instead they are handling thing on a case by case basis. send your concerns directly to credence at r metro do you mean. we have posted that address to our website on the responds page. coming up, thousands of bay area drivers are paying traffic fines. when they could be paying nothing at all. snis plus he says his car was wrongfully towed and turned to us for help. later big companies pay billions in fines. we investigate where all that money goes. first here are a few consumers we've helped out over the past several months.
>> announcer: nbc bay area responds. we have recovered over $500,000 for our viewers. if you want help call us for visit nbc bay area responds.com. webb/responds. welcome back. a berkeley man's $25 mistake ended up costing him $1200. and people throughout the bay area are making the same potentially costly mistake when they could be paying nothing but simply showing their smart
phone. it all comes down to a consumer protection law that many people don't know exist. >> reporter: becomely faced photographer mark lily often spends his mornings in santa cruz capturing the sunrise. last winter, an early morning excursion started off all wrong when a police officer pulled him over. >> i made a rolling stop and, pulled me over. >> reporter: mark wasn't ticketed for the rolling stop but he was cited for something else. not having his insurance card with him. >> he was nice about and it and said i will give you a fix it ticket. >> reporter: a fix it ticket allows you to pay $25 later if you can show proof of insurance to the court. mark says he ran into road blocks. his story is messy here because the wrong address was on his ticket and the court had computer problems. mark admits after several weeks of trying to pay the ticket he just gave up. >> it didn't cross my mind anymore. it was a fix it ticket. it was minor. $25. >> reporter: but months later that minor $25 ticket ballooned
into a $1200 fine. the court sent mark's case case to a debt collector. it demanded $900, the full fine for not having insurance, plus a $300 collections fee. >> i was sort of shocked. and i didn't know what to say. >> reporter: mark asked if we could help. we tried, but mark is still being told he has to pay. the lesson here, though, is this. there's something mark could have done to preach this fix it ticket mess at the time he was pulled over. he could have pulled out his cell phone. since 2013, california law has allowed drivers to show proof of insurance electronically, on their smart phones. mark says he had no idea and says the police officer didn't suggest it. >> he did not tell me that. >> reporter: we were curious how many other drivers were issued fix it tickets when they could have just pulled out their smart phones and paid nothing at all. that data is difficult to get. many courts can't extract it. but we did get numbers from san mateo and marin county's.
in the four years since this law has been in effect, redwood city has issued 11 hupd fix it ticket, san carlos, 640. san far yell, $1,000. drivers in these two cities alone paid $320,000 in fines when they could have paid zero if they had a smart phone to show proof of insurance. >> in california, they are behind on the whole electronic communication. >> reporter: ar manned is with an insurance trade group that backed the electronic insurance card law. he would like to see police officers encouraging drivers to pull out their phones and do to do away with fix it tickets. >> this is not a wave of the future. this is it. this is what is happening now. everybody who has a phone understands this is how it works. >> reporter: mark wishes he had been given this option. >> going from $25 to $1200 is ridiculous. >> reporter: mark is repealing his ticket. officers are not required to
tell you that a smart phone can get you out of a ticket for not having an insurance card. we asked six officers what they do. many said there is no rule in their station how to inform people about the lech reason toic proof of insurance law. as for the other piece of paper, if a police officer asks for your registration, electronic copies of that are not allowed. paper copies only, according to the highway patrol. now to sunnyvale, where a man told us his car was wrongfully towed. he says he even had proof that it should not have been towed. no one cared, except us. this plastic permit that hangs from tim kirkly's rearview mirror guarantees him a parking spot at his apartment complex. he was shocked when -- >> i came out one morning and my car was gone, towed. >> reporter: he tracked it down to at a san jose tow yard.
he was rushed to get to work so he paid a $400 fee. before he left tim says he took a picture of the permit hanging from his rearview mirror. >> to prove that the thing was there their yard with the personal on it. >> reporter: tim circled back to his homeowners association seeking a refund for the tow. but he says it ignored them. >> that was my issue, not hearing back from anybody. >> reporter: we tim called us and we reached out to the hoa. they contract with o'ryan security to watch for parking violator violators. they are authorized to tow cars that don't have permits and it says tim's car didn't have one. but o'ryan's security report from that night doesn't shed further light on that issue. the hoa gave us a copy of that issue. o'ryan took pictures of the car before towing it. you can't tell whether or not tim's personal was missing from the car. >> frustrating as all hello health. >> reporter: we made repeated
phone calls to o'ryan security but the company never responded. we went back to tim's hoa. it then called the tow company, who refunded the $400. tim is relieved to have his money back. >> it went back into my savings. >> reporter: there is no state regulatory board for the towing industry but there are state codes it must follow. those codes don't require tow companies to take pictures before towing from private property. tim got lucky he had evidence on his side. if you feel you have been wrongfully towed and can't resolve with it the parties involved your only option is to go to small claims court. that's good though. ultimately, if you win the other party could be on the hook for up to three times the towing and storage fees. coming up, big business, big fines, where does all the money go? we follow the trail. and later, she cancelled a vacation for health reasons and
welcome back to our nbc bay area responds special. i'm consumer investigator chris cmuru. it's time to ask a billion dollar question. where does the money go when large companies pay huge fines? >> we spent the past few months tluming through regulators' records and learned the short answer is most money goes to the place few trust or have access too. there are alternatives, but some question that. >> biggest recall. >> federal charges. >> charges of misleading advertising. >> and federal finds. >> slapped with $185 million in
fines. >> regulars on the nightly news. >> the company reached a $105 million settlement with the feds. >> that's where millions of drivers like tyler decosta learned their cars' air bags was defective. the manufacturer would pay a fine and repairs would be slow. >> for eight months i was driving around in a dangerous car that could have been killed me. >> reporter: for that risk and inconvenience he figured he was due part of the fine the air bag maker takata paid the federal government. he was wrong. >> i got zero. zero. >> we analyzed three years of federal fines at nine large agencies totaling more than $1 billion. what stood out in our review is how rarely corporate fines are earmarked for consumers or the agency that investigated. when hundreds of dehumidifiers started firing the applyians maker paid a fine that money went to the treasury for general reduce. >> at&t wireless is in trouble
with the government again. >> a $100 million fine at&t faces for claims it misled customers about its unlimited data plan is destined for the u.s. treasury for general use. >> the fine against fiat chrysler is huge in and chrysler's $105 million federal fine for haphazard recalls undered up at the u.s. treasury for general use. over and over, u.s. government agencies told us federal law requires them to send fines into a general pool that congress spends as it sees fit. >> i think it is a travesty. because that's money that really should go to prevention and to kpags for victims. >> reporter: rosemary is a long time crusader for automotive safe. >> 79. >> she believes fines should stay in the agencies that sniff out misconduct. >> i think probably every safety group in the country would love to see that happen. >> reporter: one federal agency told us it is set up differently. the consumer financial
protection bureau. it recently fined wells fargo $100 million for opening bogus accounts. the full $100 million went to a fund that is specifically designated for financial education and victim compensation. the civil penalty fund has grown rapidly over the past three years. the fun's balance is now $305 million, but the stockpile raised eye browse. it sits in a non-interest bearing federal account. critic call the pot too large, the agency, too aggressive. >> some people believe you are after money rather than justice. what do you say to that? >> i think if you are enforcing the law there are people who aren't going the like it. >> reporter: we asked the agency about the size of the $305 million fund. to explain its answer let's go back to the nightly news. >> announcer: from nbc news world headquarters. way back to enron? >> news coming out of the wreckage of enron. >> reporter: when enron imploded in 20001 us throws of people
lost billions of dollars. the cfpb says its fund is to bail out victim of the next enron collapse. most of the fines are paid to the treasury, the general funneled. that's where takata's fine went. >> congress has no business spending that money. the money belongs to the people, the people who are driving around in dangerous cars like this. >> reporter: a consumer advocate told us this set up is unlikely to change. she says she and others have faemted to change federal law to focus fines on victims. but congress, dong has resis. coming up, she booked a trip but later canceled at the urgings of the federal government. but her airline wouldn't issue a full refund. we stepped in to help.
to cancel her much anticipated vacation for health reasons. she thought she would get a no questions asked refund from her airline but that simply wasn't the case. we know airlines don't often give out refunds but this woman was in an unusual situation and she thought she deserved one. so did we. last fall, karen don't and her husband booked a trip to mexico. >> we wanted to relax at the beach and just get some sun. >> reporter: but a routine doctor's appointment quickly changed their plans. >> the nurse comes out and she says positive. and i look at her and i go are you sure. >> reporter: she was sure already. karen was pregnant. once the surprising news settled in, karen realized she had to cancel her upcoming trip. >> realized we couldn't go to cabo anymore because of the zika virus. >> reporter: the needs needs warns pregnant women not to travel to coastal mexico saying infection during pregnancy could cause serious bigger defects.
karen says the hotel gave her a full refund. but the airline, united didn't agree. they agreed to a refund of her miles but with restrictions. >> everyone happily gave us a refund except for united airlines. >> reporter: united's condition on its website it says consumers advised to avoid an area may change destination or travel dates without a change fee or may choose to receive a refund. karen's doctor even wrote a letter on her behalf but united didn't budge. >> i didn't think it was fair because the situation was unusual. >> reporter: karen reached out to us. we contacted united and the airline deposited karen's miles back into her account with no fee and no restriction.
>> i was very happy. >> reporter: karen is now looking forward to her new baby. she says she will plan another trip to mexico some day. >> we will have a little one running around when we go. that's okay. the more themerier. >> reporter: united said it offered zika related refunds for travelers who purchased their tickets myer to march of last year. for special situations like karen's united says it makes those decision on a case by case basis. we have an update on mary jones who hired a contractor to paint her home and ended up with bright white paint and bright pink trim. >> this is the color they told us she had to have as a trim. >> look at the house now. the pink is gone. the contractor was working under a row volked state license. the contractor refused to talk
to us for our story but after we started asking questions it gave mary $2300 to repain her home using a different contractor and a different color you can see the results through. >> finally tonight a look at how all these case add up. i'm happy to report the data from our team looks great. let's go right to the numbers. we started up full speed june 1st of last year. so for we have received 4291 complaints. we say no case too big. no case too small. proof of that. the smallest case, a $10 credit for a botched delivery last measure is. our biggest, restoring a $100,000 life insurance policy this month. in total we have recovered $648,000 for viewers like you. that's all from us tonight. we will see you every weekday at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. thanks for watching. have a great evening.
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up at movie con. >> are you ready to be called dad? >> yeah, there's a joke in there. i'm just not going to do it, but yes, i am ready. i'm happy. i'm excited. >> how is amal doing? she looks beautiful. she's radiant. >> she's doing great. she nasa london a she's in london and working and i'll go back there and hunker down. we've got kids to have. >> george was directing matt in the upcoming crime comedy, suburbicon. you said you had big news to share before the 12 week rule. >> i didn't know there were rules. it was ten weeks or something. >> are you excited to let someone in? >> matt's a close friend, and he's also got four kids, so i can use a little counseling every
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