A North Texas woman says she's being falsely charged for driving on toll roads she's never driven on. And despite months of protests, she hasn't gotten a refund from the North Texas Tollway Authority.
Rhea Van Der Werf is a mobile dog groomer, so she spends a lot of time on North Texas roads, and she racks up a lot of tolls – between $5 and $10 a day.
"I'm a mobile groomer. So I go to people's houses and come to them. It's better for the dogs," she said.
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But when her account balance went negative, she dug through her bills to see what the problem was. She was only able to see her records dating back to June, but the problem was apparent immediately.
"There was $40 coming out of my account, more than I was used to," she said. "It says on there I was going through those tolls when I wasn't even using the car at all that day. So, that's impossible. And they don't give me any proof otherwise, but there's the charge."
Van Der Werf noticed she was being charged for driving on Austin toll roads – roads, she says, she's never driven. Those charges reappeared every few days for about five months. She believes she's been falsely charged more than $100 since June.
"So many people don't go through their bill with a fine-tooth comb every time it comes out, so this is something that can easily slip under the radar," she said.
The NTTA suspects another driver in Austin has a very similar license plate, although duplicate or altered plates are also a possibility. Still, they haven't yet refunded her account because the TxTag agency runs the Austin tolls.
"Without their approval, we can't yet credit her account. We don't see the image of the license plate. They do, because it's their tolling agency in Austin. We've been asking TxTag to double-check this and make sure they have the right license plate and the right information," said NTTA spokesman Michael Rey. "Because it does appear there's a disconnect."
Since September, Van Der Werf has spent hours on the phone with customer service and even visited NTTA in person. Even though there's no evidence of her driving on those Austin toll roads, the NTTA won't offer a refund.
"It's like nothing's being done about it. I've been promised phone calls back and I've wasted my time, which I don't have a whole lot of. I'm working. My free time is precious to me, because I don't have a lot of it," she said.
An NTTA spokesman said only TxTag has the image of the license plate in question, and the agency hasn't yet confirmed there's a mistake.
"We contacted the Austin agency on her behalf Sept. 26th and again on Halloween, and we still haven't gotten resolution. So I understand her frustration," Rey said. "She did everything right."
NBC 5 asked the NTTA why other tolling agencies are allowed to deduct from a customer's TollTag account in the first place.
"It's a good question. You can use the TollTag across Texas for the convenience of our drivers, but ultimately we don't control the charges made to it by other tolling agencies. We take them at their word. Now that we look into this situation, there does seem to be a disconnect somewhere," Rey said.
Van Der Werf said she's frustrated that she isn't being offered a refund as the NTTA investigates. She said as a small business owner $100 goes a long way.
"And I only have my records going back to June. I don't know how far back I was really being wrongly charged," she said.
As she waits for an answer, Van Der Werf has a message for all North Texas drivers.
"I would definitely go home and pull up your account and check it. If there's anything that looks unfamiliar, type it in Google and try and get a resolution," she said.
Other tolling agencies do not contact drivers independently, rather they deduct from a TollTag account. That's why the NTTA says if you notice a mistake, it's a good idea to research it and if possible reach out to those agencies directly.
"It could help with getting a refund faster, since they have the records and can pull up the images quickly," Rey said. "But you need to know there's a bad toll charge out there, and that means you need to look at your bill. Customers should be doing that regularly."