A class-action lawsuit in Albuquerque, N.M. claims the collection practices surrounding local red light camera and speed camera tickets violate the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Nearly three years ago, Albuquerque officials hired Redflex Traffic Systems to collect an estimated $20 million in unpaid tickets that had been mailed to 89,000 people in the past decade.  

Redflex in turn hired Creditwatch Services, which began placing automated calls to ticket recipients, the lawsuit claims. The calls followed the formula:

"This is a special offer from Redflex for [insert name]," the recording said. "Creditwatch Services is calling for [insert name] to discuss a potential civil citation file in your name, and a special offer to reduce the fines and penalties for the citation. If this is [insert name], please call us at 877-444-3343. Our hours are Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm and Saturday from 8:30am to 1:30pm local Albuquerque time. So call 877-444-3343."

Two motorists, David Willett and Amber Fosse, became so annoyed at answering their phones to hear the pre-recorded message from the collections firm that they filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, according to TheNewspaper.com, a journal that reports on motoring issues worldwide. Under the TCPA, it is unlawful to make a phone call using a prerecorded voice to a mobile phone without the "prior express consent" of the person called. Willett and Fosse say they never provided Redflex or Creditwatch with their cell phone numbers.

The suit asks for $1,500 in statutory damages from Redflex and Creditwatch for each violation of the TCPA, an amount that could cost the firms $75 million. Creditwatch has until February 18 to answer the complaint.

"Redflex knew or should have known that Creditwatch Services was robocalling cellular telephone numbers without prior express consent of the called party in order to collect the alleged fines on its behalf," attorney Rob Treinen wrote in the class-action complaint. "Redflex nevertheless reaped the benefits of Creditwatch's illegal robocalling practices by obtaining payments resulting from those robocalls."

Red light camera and speed camera infractions in many states are treated as civil matters that do not carry the same penalties for non-payment as a moving violation. As a result, the companies that mail the citations often rely on collection agencies.

In 2011, an estimated 53 percent of Albuquerque residents voted to discontinue the traffic cameras. The results were advisory, but the City Council later agreed to shut the cameras off. But debate over the cameras continued as Redflex at the time said it still was owed its share of outstanding fines. The city resolved the possibility of litigation by agreeing to hire Redflex to pursue collections.

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