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New temporary car tags in Texas aim to crack down on widespread fraud

Snow and ice gather on a license plate Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Temperatures dropped into the single digits as snow shut down air travel and grocery stores.(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Ashley Landis/AP
Snow and ice gather on a license plate Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Temperatures dropped into the single digits as snow shut down air travel and grocery stores.(AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Texas car dealers next month will begin issuing redesigned temporary license plates as part of the state’s latest efforts to crack down on fraud.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles announced last week that the new tags include additional information and security features to aid law enforcement in their identification of fake tags. They include embedded data and text, watermarks and identification based on the type of tag issued.

“Counterfeit tags are produced by criminals using various tools outside TxDMV systems. The department has spent the last several months redesigning the look and embedded security features of official temporary tags,” officials with the department said in a statement. “Dealers will begin issuing the redesigned license plates Dec. 9.

The change to the temporary tags was announced the same day Grand Prairie police arrested a man they say led police officer Brandon Tsai on a deadly chase earlier this month. Officers arrested 22-year-old Colbie Hoffman, who authorities say was driving a vehicle with phony tags.

“I'll just tell you, I'm frustrated that we're in this position, how about that? I'm frustrated. We shouldn't even be here. So I'm glad we're doing something, we've got more work to do,” Grand Prairie Police Chief Daniel Scesney said. Hoffman was charged with evading arrest and detention, causing death and tampering with physical evidence, KERA reported.  

Darren Whitehurst, the president of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association, told The Texas Newsroom he supports the move and that it builds on what lawmakers passed last year. House bill 3927 limits the number of temporary tags a dealer can print and can also revoke a dealer’s ability to print the temporary permits if they are “fraudulently obtaining temporary tags from the [state’s]temporary tag database” according to the bill.

“They want to make sure that we get fraudulent tags and bad actors,” Whitehurst said. “Those tags that are being used for things like human trafficking and crimes. Absolutely, we want to get those people off the street.”

Whitehurst said he anticipates that more changes to licensing laws will be debated when lawmakers reconvene in Austin next year.

“One of the challenges in the Legislature is … they move forward with a proposal and they implement it. And then you're dealing with the next Legislature. And oftentimes proposals don't have an opportunity to work before the next Legislature comes in. And they make additional changes and modifications and new ideas and new proposals for addressing the same issue.”

At least one measure, House Bill 718, by state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, has already been filed. The proposal would deliver large amount of license plates to dealers so that each vehicle sold could be tied to a specific tag as the registration process proceeds, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The Houston Chronicle also reported that since 2016, about 6.7 million temporary tags have been issued in the Harris County. That’s despite only about half that amount, or 3.2 million, in title and registration transactions were conducted.

Whitehurst said it’s hard to determine where the phony license plates come from: Are they printed through official means by bad actors? Or are they photocopied or replicated using the latest technology?

“I don't know how they get out to the broader public, but apparently there are websites out there that sell either paper tags or metal tags, but they're selling fraudulent tags,” he said. “So at least what the DMV stopped [or] at least limited is the fraudulent actors that were printing them off of the database.”

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom