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Ontario woman surprised after 20-year-old fines suddenly tank credit score

Fines from more than 20 years ago recently appeared on Lisa Prosser's credit score. Fines from more than 20 years ago recently appeared on Lisa Prosser's credit score.
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An Ontario woman says she was shocked when fines from 20 years ago suddenly tanked her credit score last week, but according to at least one debt expert, the situation may not be as unusual as it seems.

Lisa Prosser, 38, saw several derogatory marks appear on her credit score for the first time last Monday, tied to $1,000 in outstanding fines.

“I pay all my bills. So I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is this?’” she told CTV News Toronto.

Prosser said she checks her credit score regularly, and came across the untimely fines as she was conducting a check in preparation to sell her house in Windsor, Ont. Her mortgage payments had increased $500 per month, making moving in with her mother-in-law in Toronto and consolidating finances a necessity.

The fines, added to her report on December 15, 2023, were from the City of Toronto. But after calling around to government offices and collection agencies, Prosser learned that three offences dated back to when she was 17 years old, and another two to when she was 22 years old, and living in Toronto.

Details on the offences were limited, listing brief descriptions, such as vending prohibited, keep, sell or offer liquor, no licence, and health protection act. Beyond these labels, Prosser has no idea what the fines are for and the only way she can find out is by visiting a Toronto courthouse, she said.

“It could be applied for jaywalking, drinking in the park … it could be anything like that, like, who knows?” Prosser said.

Prosser said that Financial Debt Recovery (FDR), one of the collection agencies assigned to the case, told her that they had attempted sending notices to the address on file. But Prosser had not lived in that house for decades.

“How can you put this on my credit report when you actually never contacted me? I'm not hiding. I got a valid driver's license. I worked for the school board,” she told CTV News Toronto.

While Prosser wished the city did more to track her down, insolvency trustee Samantha Galea said provincial and municipal fines are not statute-barred, which means there’s no limit on how long creditors have to pursue collections.

“This is a type of debt that will never go away,” Galea said.

Lisa Prosser said she panicked when four derogatory marks suddenly appeared on her credit score.“Even if it's been 20 years, or 30 years or 50 years since this person incurred the debt, it's not going to be statute barred, so it is collectible.”

Michael Famutimi, head of FDR’s legal department, said the onus is ultimately on the individual to update creditors if they move residences.

“Similar to student loans, which can be a municipal debt, they don’t cease to exist because of the passage of time,” Famutimi said.

He explained the City of Toronto likely assigned FDR to collect this debt in December, hence the recent date on Prosser’s report.

With provincial and municipal fines, Galea said, “They (collectors) don’t really have to prove anything. They don't have to really even necessarily prove that they reached out because the statute of limitations doesn't apply.”

She suspects the city recently assigned Prosser’s file to a collection agency because it needs the money in the wake of a long pause on collections during the pandemic.

According to a City of Toronto spokesperson, Provincial Offences Act fines permanently remain on file, since they are considered Crown debt. Some fines even date back to the 1970s when they were transferred from the provincial government to the municipalities.

As of September 2023, there were more than two million cases valued at approximately $575 million in outstanding fines, the city added.

Under pressure with her imminent home sale, Prosser felt the only way to resolve the issue was to pay the fine. “I need to get it off my reports. It's the only choice I have,” she said.

She has a hunch at least one of the fines is fraudulent, the one pertaining to the health act. “I was 17 years old. I don't remember doing anything,” she said.

But to find out, she’ll have to pay a visit to Toronto, which she’s aiming to do next week. “If I feel it's fraudulent, I’ll file an appeal or a dispute,” she said 

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