When Rick DeMeo's elderly mother-in-law stopped driving last year, he turned in her E-ZPass transponder, which was part of his account.
"I took it to the mall and went to the E-ZPass location at the Square One Mall and turned it in to them," said DeMeo.
Months after returning the transponder, he realized he was incurring an unusual amount of E-ZPass charges on his credit card.
"I knew I wasn’t going through tolls, so I went online and looked it up, and saw over $700 in charges through tolls in New Jersey," said DeMeo.
He says he hadn't traveled to New Jersey, but dozens of charges were posted to his account over a three-week period in late January and early February. Someone was using the transponder as much as 11 times a day, racking up hundreds of dollars in charges on the New Jersey Turnpike, according to the information listed on his account.
"I went down to the location in Saugus, at the Square One Mall, told them about it, and they shut it down at that point," said DeMeo. "The woman who was there was helpful. She tried to do something for me, but she wasn't able to, because she couldn't access the New Jersey system, so she told me I had to call customer service."
DeMeo started making calls, trying to get a refund of that $700, but he reached a dead end.
"I called the E-ZPass customer service, and they told me that because it was in New Jersey, I had to call New Jersey E-ZPass, so I did," he explained. "I called New Jersey E-ZPass. They told me that because the transponder was issued in Massachusetts, I had to go through Mass., so I called them back. They sent me back to New Jersey. New Jersey sent me back to Massachusetts. That's when I called you."
NBC10 Boston reached out to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and asked them to take a look at DeMeo's complaint. MassDOT customer service personnel worked on the case for six weeks, and eventually contacted him, letting him know that they were refunding him all but $52. DeMeo says he was told those charges would have to be refunded through the New York/New Jersey Port Authority. He says he was never given an explanation of what happened with his transponder.
"I'm at least glad I got the big chunk of it back," he said. "I think if it wasn't for you and NBC Boston, we never would have gotten our money back."
Due to state law, MassDOT says it can't provide information about DeMeo's account, but the agency says if a customer informs them that their transponder should be deactivated due to theft or other reasons, it will immediately be deactivated. MassDOT says that other states operate their own E-ZPass systems, and make their own determinations about whether or not a customer is responsible for charges incurred when a transponder is allegedly stolen.