I got a letter. It said I owed 62 dollars plus late fee to the city of San Francisco. For a parking ticket in June. It was for a car I no longer own. A car that’s sitting in a wrecking yard in Van Nuys, according to the man I sold it to. Come see, he said. You can look for yourself, I swear. I believe him. The head gasket was blown. There was no way he was going to get it running again.
I could remit payment by calling, by going to the city’s web site, or by mailing the money to LDC Collection Systems. I looked online. The city web site was real. The ticket was real. On the letter it said it was a white Mercedes, with the correct license plate number. My car was silver. I figured the guy sold the license plate. No, no. Come see it, come take a picture, it’s here. The car hasn’t been in San Francisco for five years.
If you google LDC Collection Systems you will find this is a common occurrence. People getting tickets for cities they’ve never been in. People getting tickets for cars they no longer own. For infractions that happened five years ago. LDC collection systems uses municipal records to create fake parking tickets. They then send out very real collection notices. People are so terrified of getting fucked on their credit, or of getting fucked registering a car, that they just pay. The hassle of fighting one of these things is so immense– we all know the city will take you on like a cornered raccoon to fuck you out of your money. And that’s if you can even talk to somebody. Call the city parking department and try. Battle the elaborate phone tree and its deliberately overlong announcements designed to make you pay or hang up. Explore its many excruciating branches. Get fed up and press “0” once. I’m sorry. That is not a valid option. Goodbye.
And even if they say it’s dismissed, it’s not dismissed. It’s lingering in dark corners of poorly kept bureaucratic records. Lodged in a system built like a whale’s mouth to trap money in and let none leak out. Waiting for you to get pulled over a decade down the road. Waiting to get you arrested. To snowball into three grand worth of bench warrants and failures to appear and late charges. You had to dig up the DMV form saying you sold the car, some official pronouncement stamped by the state. Send it in– the original only. Maybe not get it back. Years from now you will have to dig it up again. We know this nightmare. So we get something in the mail that says you owe sixty bucks– instead of spending a hundred bucks’ worth of time on it, you mail in the check.
The power of the government to fuck you is manifold. LDC Collection Systems knows this. They take an easy gamble on it and lie to people to get money. This is on top of whatever massive sums they’re making having the exclusive contract to collect for San Francisco.
I found LDC Collection Systems’ San Francisco number. Called them. Unlike on the city line, a person answered the phone. A young man. Look, this is a fake ticket, I said. That car’s in a wrecking yard in Van Nuys. It was there in June. I can prove it. Gave him the citation number. OK, sir, what’s your full name. I told him. What’s the make and model of the car?
Wait a minute, I said. You mean you don’t have it? Uh, I do, he said. Well what do you have. It’s a Toyota.
The most popular make in California. He was hoping for a lucky guess. If I went along with his questions he would have had the correct information. It would then have been used to prove my guilt. See sir, the citation is for a silver 1979 Mercedes. Matching the license plate of your car. You’re the registered owner. If you sold it it’s your responsibility to prove that to the DMV with stamped sealed forms signed in triplicate by the pope. If the correct make was on the letter, why didn’t he have it in front of him? Maybe the make on the letter was a lucky guess. It said the car was white. Listen, I told him. I don’t own that car anymore and it wasn’t in San Francisco. He put me on hold. To LDC Collection Systems’ credit, there is no hold music.
I was on hold for a long time. I hung up. Called back. It was him. I apologized. I am unfailingly polite. I have worked boiler rooms, scummy operations. If he doesn’t do it someone else will. He told me it was being dismissed. It was a clerical error. Maybe the cop put down one letter of the license plate wrong. We’ll send you a letter stating this. If you look on the city’s web site in a few days, it will reflect this information. Great. But too easy. Because they know it’s bullshit.
LDC Collection Systems has the exclusive contract for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach. Places in Wisconsin. All over the country probably. Cities must love it. They’re able to not employ people. Not pay pensions. Farm it out and get pennies on the dollar up front. There is no avoiding this now. Every local government is so money-fucked they have no choice but to fire everybody and pay corporations.
But this corporation then uses its access to city records entrepreneurially. Which is to say, they pick over them looking for ways to squeeze out dough. One of these ways is to throw fake shit at the wall and see if it sticks. This is what collections agencies do. They inflate your obligations. They scare you. They railroad you for information they then use against you. They hound you with threats until it becomes less of a hassle to just hand over some cash. Their staff is prodigiously skilled at this.
Well, you say: maybe it was an honest mistake. Maybe it was a clerical error. Then how does it happen so much? Where is the honest mistake where you don’t have to pay a ticket you deserve? Ever heard of that happening? I’m glad my shit was rectified, but: A) who knows if it really was and B) it’s fucking scary that a private collection company has the power of the government. Especially when they’re lying, stealing scumbags like LDC Collection Systems.
I’m not saying things were great when the city did its own hassling. I’m not saying governments aren’t shakedown artists. But there are checks and balances there. They make it hard to fight, but you can fight. What you have here, though, is the worst of both worlds. Scummy, lying collection agencies– the worst of capitalism. The power of the state to fuck your life– the worst of government. We sold LDC Collection Systems our records, our laws, our courts, our police. And they happily use these tools to extract every possible penny. Including where it’s not owed. In case I haven’t been clear: LDC Collection Systems are scammers who use your government records to create fake parking tickets, and your government resources to enforce on them.
Cities sold the exclusive right to collect municipal fines to scammers. The Feds sold military logistics to KBR. California’s selling prisoners to private prisons out of state, because the courts said we can’t pack them in inhumanely anymore. We have to get a certain number of convicts out. God forbid we just let them go. Soon everything will be like this. Yes, government is bad. But private companies are worse. Once they get a contract they’re an unchecked monopoly. And shitty government didn’t leave the equation. They just became the enforcement branch for shitty companies. Shitty companies who bought the shitty government off for the privilege of fucking the citizens out of everything they can.
We got pulled over in Mexico. Two thousand pesos or we impound the car, they said. Sandwiched us between two cruisers and escorted us to an ATM. Made sure the transaction happened on a side street out of sight. The officer didn’t count the money. Just stuck it in his pocket. He seemed happy. Making a good living. Probably had a long career ahead of him in the Distrito Federal. Too bad. He would have made a great American.
In conclusion: zero stars.