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A California man ended up in a messy, financial nightmare when a stranger ran a red light. He didn’t know the man, and he wasn’t nearby when it happened — the only thing that got Lawrence Armstrong into this mess was his name. Apparently, the man who ran the red light had a name similar to Armstrong’s, and the traffic citation mistakenly ended up on his driving record, FoxNews.com reports.

A red light camera in San Bernardino, Calif., photographed the stranger in March 2012, and a year later, Armstrong noticed his auto insurance rates increased. The rate hike was a result of the traffic citation for the 2012 red light incident, though Armstrong never received notice of it, his lawyer told Fox News.

Though his conviction was eventually overturned, Armstrong continued to deal with more expensive insurance payments, on top of the legal fees related to fighting the wrongful citation. It’s unclear how the error occurred, but Armstrong sued his insurance company and the red light camera company. His lawyer reportedly was able to get Armstrong’s record cleared and insurance rates lowered to their previous level.

The story doesn’t say if there was a fine levied against Armstrong, but it would be smart for him to explore that possibility, since unpaid tickets are often sent to debt collectors. Collection accounts have a seriously negative effect on credit scores, even if they’ve been paid, and consumers often don’t know about them until they’ve heard from a debt collector or seen their credit scores plummet.

Your driving record isn’t the only thing that can hurt your insurance rates, either. In some states, your credit standing has an impact on how much you pay for auto insurance, and poor credit can keep you from getting credit cards, loans or a place to live. Over your lifetime, poor credit can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars — you can see how much your debt is costing you — so you want to make sure your credit score is based on accurate information. Errors happen more often than you may think, so make it a habit to request your free annual credit reports and check your credit scores regularly.You can get two of your credit scores for free every month through Credit.com.

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