Texas’ Big Problem: Over 2 Million Phony Vehicle Registrations

Everything is bigger in Texas, including its Texas-sized fake vehicle registration problems. Over two billion vehicles are estimated to be plying Texas highways and byways on fake paper plates. You know, those are the temporary plates issued to new or newly registered vehicles. There seems to be a huge underground market for the scam in issuing fake registrations through paper plates. 

Texas makes it easy to become a registered car dealer

Fake paper tags
Fake paper tags | Facebook Marketplace

This is happening partly because Texas has a very lax prerequisite to becoming a car dealer. If you can fork over $700 and take an online six-hour course, you’re golden. You can snag a Texas-appointed, bonafide dealer’s license just that easily. 

Of course, you still have to show proof of the location you plan on selling cars from. That alone should quell the tide of shyster car dealers. But according to Sergeant Jose Escribano from the Travis County Constable’s Office, it isn’t doing a whole lot in preventing a cottage industry is the issuance of fake paper plates. 

Some dealers make more selling phony registrations than cars

fake temporary tags
Fake temporary tag ad on Facebook Marketplace | Facebook

“You can get one in an igloo in Alaska if you pay for it and have a printer,” he told the Houston Chronicle. Many of these state-licensed dealers make a lot more money issuing these fake temporary tags than they do actually selling vehicles. But it gets worse.

Some who have been caught in the fake paper plate business still find that they can continue the illicit issuance of these registrations for months before they finally get locked out of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicle’s website. The special portal is available for dealers who need to get paper plate registrations after selling a car

Lots of nefarious reasons why issuing phony registrations is proliferating

Fake Texas temporary tag
Fake Texas temporary tag | Facebook

Besides the convenience for buyers, they can ignore having to pass the yearly safety and emissions inspections. And some use the tags to continue driving these vehicles for years without getting metal plates. And they can even avoid tolls and certain fines like those issued from speed cameras. 

For others, this is the only way they can get a vehicle registered in Texas because of past serious crimes or parole violations. The Chronicle found one vehicle using a paper plate had recently been involved in hitting and killing an officer in 2019. Another was involved in an officer shooting in Houston. 

It also discovered that it is a big problem in New York state. Now officers are supposed to stop and check the registration of every Texas temporary registration they find. That is because many get used for robberies and carjackings. 

We found a similar problem in California

Fake Texas temporary tag
Fake temporary tag | Facebook

But in looking for how easy it is to get these “services” we found something else. This is not just a Texas problem. California looks like it has its fair share of similar sites to easily purchase temporary registrations. So while The Houston Chronicle first reported on the racket, it is happening in Cali. 

It doesn’t appear to take much to start selling paper tags anywhere. The Drive found that in May three men were arrested for producing almost 600,000 Texas temporary tags in under 18 months. Another investigation reported by the New York Post found a site that sold over 430,000 fake tags. At $35 to $65 per tag, they raked in a minimum of over $15,000,000. 

While Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill to limit how many tags a dealer can sell, no details have been put together. So really nothing is happening on the legal front. And even if the law gets figured out, crafty thieves will just start new “dealerships” to continue the practice.