(CBS) — She was forced to pay hundreds of dollars for a red-light camera ticket that was not hers.
It was a case of mistaken identity. When she reached out to 2 Investigator Dave Savini for help, he discovered state debt collectors are wrongly fining thousands of people.
Gabriela Martinez says her first red-light ticket came in 2016, after a red-light camera in Aurora recorded a vehicle turning right on red without coming to a stop first.
But the vehicle caught on camera was not owned by Martinez.
“I got a letter from the state letting me know they were intercepting my wages,” Martinez says.
A collection agency hired by the Illinois Comptroller’s Office took $290 from her pay check, as part of a debt-recovery program the state handles for local governments.
“I’m telling them this is not me,” Martinez recalls.
After three months of trying to clear it up, she called the 2 Investigators for help.
It took the investigative unit less than 20 minutes to figure out the car that blew the red light did not belong to Gabriela Martinez — and neither did the license plate.
Then the investigative team tracked down the vehicle that did blow the light — and its owner, Gabriela Hernandez.
“I feel really awful about it,” Henandez says.
Here is how the mixup occurred: Gabriela Hernandez is the motorist who should have been fined. Gabriela Martinez at one time had the same name — Gabriel Hernandez – until she got married three years ago.
The 2 Investigators found this name mix-up is one of nearly 5,000 Illinois debt recovery cases, since 2016, in which the wrong people had their wages and tax returns garnished by mistake.
The Gabriela Hernandez whose car was recorded by the red-light camera said she never received the red light ticket, which originally was sent by the City of Aurora. When the city did not get a payment from her, the debt went to the state for collection.
She now has to pay the ticket and late fees, too.
After CBS 2’s investigation, Gabriela Martinez was let off the hook and is getting her money back.
“That is awesome,” she says. “I was like, I’m just going to take the loss, but then you happened.”
Martinez says when she appealed the state debt, she did not hear back. The notice did not have a phone number for her to follow up.
The Illinois Comptroller’s Office, in a statement, thanked CBS 2 for bringing this to their attention. They fixed the case for Martinez and added a phone number to all new debt collection notices.