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Consumers Warned About Bogus Information On Traffic Fines

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The state attorney general's office warned California consumers Wednesday about debt collectors giving misleading information about a new traffic fine amnesty program.

Attorney General Kamala Harris said the warning was prompted by complaints about debt agencies that contract with counties to collect the unpaid fines.

Her office said some collectors are failing to notify people about California's debt amnesty program, which allows low-income drivers with lesser infractions such as running a red light to pay as little as one fifth of what they owe from old fines.

Harris, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate, said some debt collectors have told eligible people they don't qualify for the program or have failed to update the Department of Motor Vehicles when people pay off their fines.

"I'm not surprised," said Mike Herald, a legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty who helped write a scathing report by civil rights groups on how poor and minority Californians are getting caught in a cycle of debt and having their driver's licenses suspended as a result of costly traffic tickets and court penalties.

"We've been seeing inconsistent practices that are contrary to the amnesty program," Herald said.

Since 2006, the state has suspended 4.8 million driver's licenses after motorists failed to pay fines or appear in court. Only about 83,000 of those licenses were reinstated, the DMV reported when Gov. Jerry Brown proposed the amnesty program last spring.

The 18-month program started this month and continues through March 31, 2017. It applies to certain unpaid traffic tickets and "failure to appear" court violations that were due by Jan. 1, 2013.

It doesn't apply to parking tickets, drunken-driving or reckless-driving violations.

A person making less than $14,712 annually or a family of four making less than $30,312 qualify for an 80 percent discount. All others receive a 50 percent discount.

Administrative fees would be slashed from $300 to $50 and residents who have had their driver's licenses revoked could apply to have them reinstated.

Harris recommends people contact the county that issued a ticket to see if it qualifies.

Consumers who believe a debt collector provided misleading information can file a complaint online.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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