Cash-strapped Illinois counties use collection agency to harass drivers over unpaid tickets

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Beware of drivers. Current and former Illinois residents are complaining that local counties used a collection agency to harass them over unpaid parking and traffic tickets as early as the 1980s.

As part of the practice, first reported by the Chicago Tribune, counties in Illinois turned fine collection over to a private agency in an effort to reduce costs and time.

But many of those contacted by the agency, Credit Collection Partners, say the information in the system is either wrong or out of date, with some saying they have already paid for the tickets and just don’t have the receipts. Others simply describe the calls as overkill.

“I thought the state of Illinois is so broke… they have to find people from the ’80s to pay tickets,” said Melanie Little, a former Illinois resident who now lives in Florida. , at the Chicago Tribune. Little told the newspaper that she was contacted by the company about an unpaid 1983 ticket when she was 14 years old.

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Representatives from the Illinois Association of Court Clerks and Credit Collection Partners dispute the harassment allegations, arguing that they are only doing their job and that people are always responsible for paying fines, no matter how long they have been. issued.

“Just because he’s 10 or 15 doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay him,” Becky Jansen, vice president of Credit Collection Partners, told Fox News. “We’re not going to write off old debts just because people are complaining. We have been hired by these counties to collect the money and we will do our best for the justice system.

Jansen added: “The justice system does not have the time, money or resources to collect these fines. “

Credit Collection Partners collects the debts of nearly half of Illinois counties.

Jansen’s claim was echoed by Kankakee County Circuit Court clerk Sandi Cianci, who is the current president of the Illinois Association of Clerks.

Cianci said that in addition to the initial fines, counties get an additional 30%, but with the time, labor and legal costs required to find and get people to pay the fines, it was financially more practical to hire. a third to do it. the work.

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“The cost was just too high,” she told Fox News. “And when we get the money, it’s scattered around 50 or 60 different entities, so sometimes we only get a quarter of each case.”

At least five complaints have been filed against the collection agency with the Illinois attorney general’s office – along with a slew of grievances filed on social media and with the Better Business Bureau. Annie Thompson, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said in an email to Fox News that the state is “looking further into the practices of the company.”

Jansen objected to claims of aggressive tactics used to collect fines, saying Credit Collection Partners did not use bullying schemes to collect debt and that the company had an A + rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Complaints filed on the Better Business Bureau website range from incorrect information to failed debt removal from people’s credit reports.

“The debt was for unpaid traffic fines and court costs for Macon County, Illinois, a place I’ve never been to,” one person wrote in a complaint to the BBB. “I also never received any traffic quotes anywhere.”

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The anonymous person added: “I was informed that my name would be removed from their list, and I again asked how they came to contact me when I was not the person they were looking for. My question was not answered. Over the next few weeks, I got daily calls from this alleged company on my landline… I’m not the person they’re looking for, but I’m being harassed by these people.

Janson told Fox News that in incidents where the information was incorrect, the company fixed the issue and no one’s credit rating was affected by its collection efforts.

While the practice of outsourcing the collection of unpaid fines is completely legal, experts say counties need to be cautious when doing so and ensure there is proper oversight.

“How well do counties control collection agencies? Rebecca Hendrick, professor of public administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the Tribune. “Even if it’s incorrect, maybe someone is afraid enough to pay it.”


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