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Yes, we’re a bit confused about what this driver was thinking. There was no effort to make this fake license plate look like the real thing. You would think this person would want a more accurate look, seeing as how they stole the car in question. You know, in case the police are nearby. It looks like the fake plate has black electrical tape holding it on.

That’s another indication this is some weird effort. Anyway, this Kia Rio LX was stolen early one morning in Benicia, California. When a police officer saw the fake plate, he sent in the plate and description and found this was a stolen car. With that, he pulled the driver over and arrested her. She may have been better off with no plates on the stolen car. Or not?

Are fake license plates much of a problem?

Fake license plate on Kia Rio showing black tape
Fake license plate on Kia Rio | Benicia Police

The charges include felony possession of a stolen vehicle and misdemeanor possession of “unlawful paraphernalia.” We assume that means the fake plate. The driver was sent to Solano County Jail. We should also note that the tags drawn on the fake plate were expired. 

While this whole incident was beyond common sense, fake paper plates, or “ghost tags,” are a serious problem. When COVID-19 hit in 2019, registering a vehicle across the country became more challenging. At the time, it was easier for dealers to issue temporary paper plates since it was taking much longer to get metal ones. 

Where are the fake license plates coming from?

Police in patrol car looking through windshield
Police in patrol car | JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty

Obviously, fake paper plates can help thieves. But they also aid in preventing the police from seeking out those vehicles taking part in other crimes. Fake plates are also handy for avoiding toll payments. 

Both the New Jersey Monitor and Streetsblog ran an investigation into the fake plate problem. The investigation found that over 100 car dealerships were in violation of temporary tag regulations. Since 2019, dealers issued over 250,000 paper plates. The fake paper plates, in turn, sell through different online sites like Craigslist. 

The ads for the plates will have a phone number to call or text to complete the purchase. Prices are around $50. While they look like the real deal, they are completely fake. We don’t encourage car theft, but wouldn’t this have been a more convincing way to go for the Kia thief?

How much money is lost from this problem?

Man being arrested with back to camera
Man being arrested | Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty

But there’s more. Some used car dealers will sell temporary tags for under $200. They’re real, but the information the buyer provides may or may not be. So, tracing the tags can lead police nowhere. The tags can have both fake names or cars attached to them, making a search impossible. 

In New York, the Department of Motor Vehicles says it could not collect $61 million in tickets last year. And the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had over $11.3 million in tolls it could not collect. The Port Authority beats that number with $40 million in unpaid tolls attributed to fake license plates. The other problem that comes with these fake plates is the driver may be driving without a driver’s license, insurance, and no registration

So, are license plates working? Should there be a different way of licensing vehicles and drivers? The ability to create fake plates, except for our Kia Rio thief, is not like it was 100 years ago when the current system began. Technology is way past what anyone back then could imagine. So, do you have any ideas for how a new registration system might work?


Crime Has a New Weapon: 3D-Printed Fake License Plates