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Illinois license plate rules causing state of confusion for drivers

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The I-Team uncovered a state of confusion in Illinois as suburban drivers find their license plates match other vehicles. (WLS)

A license plate is supposed to be a simple way for states to sort and track cars, trucks and buses, matching unique combinations of letters and numbers to registrations. But there is a state of confusion in Illinois as suburban drivers find their plates match other vehicles.

Linda Robinson got her first mystery toll in the mail a few months ago, saying her license plate was spotted at a toll plaza in Colorado and she better pay up.

"I'm looking at it and I'm saying, first of all that doesn't look like my car, and then second of all I've never been there!" says Robinson, who lives in Country Club Hills, Ill.

Robinson thought the first bill was a fluke but then she got another one saying she blew through three tolls in West Virginia.

"You can definitely see on the picture of the car, it's not even my-- I have a 2015 Hyundai Sonata, this is not my grill but that's my plate number on there," she says.

Her plate number, on the front of a truck.

"My first reaction was not again, and then when I looked at the date, and I knew that I was off preparing for my foot surgery so I'm not in West Virginia!" she says. "How many more of these are going to pop up? Giving me tickets for something that's not mine!"

"I've never heard of someone getting a ticket, getting a ticket for a truck plate," says Jakub Werynski of Coobah Corp.

The I-Team tracked Robinson's plate match to west suburban Elmhurst and the headquarters of trucking company Coobah Corp., who says they just sold the truck registered with the matching license plate.

"Everything can be fixed but it's probably causing a lot of hassle for people that are getting violations for equipment that they don't own," Werynski says.

Illinois Secretary of State officials issue the same letter and number sequence for multiple vehicles over different types of plates.

They claim that plates that start with P and have the same sequence of numbers can be issued to both passenger cars and heavy duty vehicles because the type of plate is different. But the I-Team has uncovered p can stand for "pricey."

"The first violation I got was a red light camera in Memphis," says James Nudera of Elmhurst.

Nudera's plate problem started with a red light ticket in Tennessee and spread to an unpaid toll violations from Virginia. He called for answers.

"They said this is kind of funny, this is not your vehicle, this happens to be a Megabus," he says.

He wasn't laughing though when he found out that Megabuss' route also took his seemingly identical plate on trips through Georgia since 2012, unknowingly racking up bills that Georgia tolling authorities sent to a collection agency.

"It's over a thousand dollars and it could be more," he says. "Who knows, I could be getting one tomorrow!"

Illinois Secretary of State officials say it's not the Illinois plates that are the problem -- "It's obvious looking at either the vehicle or the plates, they are different," they say -- so out-of-state toll authorities should "focus on the type of plate, then the digits" before issuing a ticket.

State officials won't disclose how many other plates are seemingly identical because they say if read correctly they don't consider these plates to have "the same sequence of numbers."

"The number is the same, the plate is different. When they issued the P plate to passenger cars, I think that's when they opened up Pandora's box," Nudera says.

"I think someone has made a mistake and is not owning up to it," says Robinson.

State officials say because the vehicles are "not even remotely similar" it's up to the out of state enforcement agencies to make sure they're billing the correct driver.

Both Nudera and Megabus have since changed their plates to stop their mix-up.

If this is happening to you, contact the IL Secretary of State Records Inquiry Department: (800) 252-8980.
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