Temporary paper license plates can be found on cars in almost every New York City neighborhood. Some are legitimate, but authorities say most are not, especially when it comes to Texas temporary plates.
The reason? The Texas temporary buyer’s tags are only supposed to be given to car buyers who purchase a car in the state of Texas.
"Why is someone with a Texas dealership plate temporary plate, here in New York. You have to buy that vehicle in Texas. So the chances of 5,500 vehicles being purchased in Texas and driven here for that short term, when a temporary plate is on it, is not very likely," said former NYPD Chief of Department, and NBC-paid consultant, Terry Monahan.
Authorities say drivers in New York can easily purchase the illegal tags over the internet, because of a lax security checks during the dealer application process in Texas. For less than $800, someone can claim to a be a car dealer and purchase a license.
That gives them access to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles records, where they can print tags and sell them for profit. But authorities say many of these dealers are just shell companies selling fake tags and no cars.
Some estimates by law enforcement put as many as 1.2 million fraudulent Texas tags sold in 2021 alone.
In New York, detectives with the auto crimes unit say drivers buy the temporary Texas tags to make vehicles untraceable when they commit crimes; they are also used to avoid paying tolls, meters and costly registration fees.
“One reason, that it helps make them a ghost car. That’s what I call it, a ghost car. Pretty much could be undetectable.” Says Det. Maureen Stefenelli with NYPD Auto Crimes unit.
Law enforcement has been cracking down. Last year, the New York Police Department towed 5,538 cars with fraudulent tags and arrested 3,568 drivers. There were only 1,134 arrests for the same offense in 2020.
The New York City Sheriff, which launched operation CON-Temporary last summer, has already towed more than 600 vehicles with the fake tags. Illegal guns were found in some of those impounded vehicles.
On Long Island, the temporary tags are currently the number one arrest for the Nassau County Police department.
"Thirty percent of all vehicles stopped in Nassau County with these plates and weapons and drugs", says Monahan. "There is a very good possibility as a police officer as you approach this vehicle, you approaching somebody about some sort of criminal activity” he adds.
And now the Texas DMV itself is cracking down as well. At an emergency meeting in January, the board that oversees the Texas DMV ordered the agency to immediately suspend the license of dealers suspected of selling fakes tags and directed the staff to begin working on plans to fingerprint people applying for licenses.
The executive director of the Texas DMV, Whitney Brewster, has since reigned. And on Wednesday, the Texas DMV shut down six down dealers so they can no longer get into the system and print the illegal tags.