I-Team: Drivers Hit With Bogus Fines In License Plate Confusion

SALEM (CBS) – Patricia Demirdjian never thought her trip to a Salem grocery store back in November would end up being an alibi.

“I had the proof that it couldn’t have possibly been me,” she said.

Patricia had to send the grocery receipt to convince the MBTA that the parking violation she received at a Franklin commuter lot was not her car.

“I was very angry,” she added.

Bibiana Nowacki drives a Mazda, but was repeatedly charged for toll violations in Florida for a high-end sports car.

“The picture from the toll was a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. I’ll pay the $9 toll if you send me the Lamborghini,” she said jokingly.

Both women have paid an extra fee to the registry for decades to have low number license plates. Bibiana’s father gave her the plate in 1962, Patricia has had hers since the 1980’s.

But it turns out the numbers on the plates are not unique.


Bibiana’s plate is 330 A. The plate on the picture of the sports car sent to her from the Florida toll system is also a Massachusetts plate with 330 A.

(Image credit: Bibiana Nowacki)

But if you look closely you can see it is a dealer plate. That difference was not noted by the Florida toll system and that is why Bibiana keeps getting the bills.

When Patricia received the notice for the parking violation in Franklin, she appealed it to the MBTA. The appeal was denied by the MBTA because they said they had a photo of Patricia’s plate number which is 10375. When she asked to see the photo, the MBTA admitted there are no cameras at the lot. When she sent her grocery receipt to prove she was in Salem at the time of the violation, the MBTA then told her it was a mistake and the car parking illegally was a specialty Right Whale plate with the same five numbers – 10375.

(WBZ-TV graphic)

“They should not be doing, reusing plate numbers, it’s confusing,” she told WBZ-TV.

For Patricia, it was not just that one mistake.

Back in May, she wasn’t able to re-register her car because the Registry of Motor Vehicles was convinced her plates were stolen.

“Now, I know it wasn’t stolen because I had both plates on the car,” she said.

(WBZ-TV graphic)

This time the confusion was caused by a stolen car from New Bedford with a blue municipal plate, but it had the same number sequence as Patricia’s plate – 10375.

State Representative William Straus is the House Chair of the state Transportation Committee.  He told the I-Team he is not surprised by these stories because he has had to reach out to the registry a number of times for constituents with similar issues.

When we asked what it says about a system that requires a state lawmaker to get involved to fix a problem he said, “It shouldn’t come to that.”

There are more than 35 different specialty plates in Massachusetts and most raise money for charities or other causes. You can have a Red Sox plate that supports the Jimmy Fund and a Breast Cancer plate with a pink ribbon will donate to research efforts. There’s a plate supporting wildlife, Right Whales, Roseate Turns and the Massachusetts Animal Coalition.

When we reached out to MassDOT, a spokesperson told us there are no duplicate plates because the stacked letters (RS for Red Sox, RW for Right Whale, etc.) are supposed to be included with the numbers in any sort of violation.

But that doesn’t always happen and it doesn’t solve the issue with municipal and commercial plates and Straus believes the confusion can create a list of issues for drivers.

“The most serious is the one that I have always been concerned about, which is a delayed identification in the case of a criminal investigation,” he said.

After twice being victimized by this issue, Patricia says that same thought has crossed her mind. “They could rob a bank and my number is all they are going to remember,” she said.

Bibiana thought she had her problem fixed with the state of Florida until she recently received yet another violation in the mail.

“It is just plain stupid to have all these license plates issued with the same numbers,” she said. “It’s like a keystone cops thing.”

Straus told the I-Team the registry is working on a way to eliminate the confusion, but that fix is still more than a year away.

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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