Law enforcement is warning about an increase in crimes linked to fake paper license plates — part of a lucrative black market industry that made around $200 million last year.
Police say the fake paper plates are often used by criminals to mask their identity, calling them a “license for crime.” The plates, primarily manufactured in Texas, are an aggravating factor behind the rise in violence and unsolved crimes seen by law enforcement across the country.
Paul Castro was one of the many victims of this unlawful industry after his son was murdered by someone driving with fake plates.
“It was July 6, 2021, my two sons and I had just finished going to an Astros game in Downtown Houston. And on the way back, there was this guy who was driving quite erratically,” Castro told Fox News.
“I was driving probably 90 miles an hour through the streets, trying to get out of this man’s line of sight. He just continued chasing us, took a weapon out and fired two shots from a .44 caliber,” Castro continued.
One of those shots killed Castro’s 17-year-old son.
Castro gave a detailed description of the vehicle to police but noted that the vehicle had fake plates.
“I remember looking over, and I saw he had paper plates on.”
Fortunately, police were able to arrest the shooter with help from social media and surveillance footage.
However, police note that thousands of crimes linked to fake plates go unsolved every year.
New York police said that 2,163 people were arrested after committing crimes with fake paper license plates within the first seven months of 2021.
Texas police have recently cracked down on the use of fake plates after an operation in Dallas seized 42 paper plates in a single day.
Dallas police lieutenant Julio Gonzales said the plates were “used in the commission of robberies, burglaries and of course with stolen vehicles.”
Officials say that oftentimes, the plates are distributed with help from a licensed car dealer who has access to the state department of motor vehicles’ online e-tag system.
The fraudulent dealers can sell an enormous number of tags for upward of tens of thousands of dollars each week.
According to one report, DMV records showed a car dealership called Wale Automotive issued 17,000 paper tags in just eight months. This means that the dealer — operating from a small dirt lot — sold an impossible 17,000 cars in that time.
Travis County Constable Sergeant Jose Escribano, who leads the state’s top paper tag fraud investigation unit, said his team was looking for dealerships with red flags like this.
Texas lawmakers have recently passed a law allowing the state’s DMV to block dealers who commit fraud from accessing the online system. The law also allows the DMV to revoke dealers’ licenses who are suspected of fraud and limits dealerships to issuing a certain number of tags a year. Thus far, six dealerships have been found selling fake paper license plates and have been shut down.
“We’re hopeful this rule will allow us to address the temporary tag fraud that we’re seeing more quickly,” Texas DMV Executive Director Whitney Brewster said. “We’re hoping with the additional enforcement action we’re able to take and tightening up the identification process, we’ll see a sharp decrease in this criminal activity.”