MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. - You may have seen them around. Now a Maryland police department is warning everyone about fraudulent Texas temporary tags on the roads.
A Montgomery County police officer tells FOX 5 those selling the fake tags are taking advantage of their own community. Officer Michael Cowell in the department’s Traffic Division, also says it is a serious public safety issue for everyone involved.
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"We want to try and get the word out so that they don’t purchase these tags so they don’t get taken advantage of. I’ve had some of the drivers that I’ve stopped have said how much they paid and one of them had paid like $250 for a temporary tag that’s good for 60 days. Well when I explained to them if you just spent about $100 more, you would’ve had full registration, he honestly said I did not know," said Officer Cowell, describing his members as now pulling one or two of these fraudulent temp tags off the road each week more recently. They have been aware of the Texas tag issue for a couple of years now.
In late May, federal prosecutors indicted at least three people for an alleged scheme to sell over 580,000 fraudulent Texas temporary tags from the Lone Star State to New York. Investigators say the suspects created false dealerships on the state’s own DMV portal to gain access and were allegedly selling some $5 tags for up to around $250 a piece.
"This one was paid, the guy paid $125 dollars for this one. And the person who did this online for him – it cost him $5," said Cowell, showing FOX 5 the fraudulent temp tag made out of a printed folded-over piece of paper, covered with a plastic sheet protector. Most of the real temporary tags, FOX 5 was told, are made of a more weather-resistant material. They’re not just a sheet of printer paper.
On the fraudulent tag we were shown, Cowell said the VIN number is real. However when police went to call the number for the dealer associated with the printed tag, it didn’t exist.
Montgomery County police are concerned some immigrants are being preyed on. Cowell said many of the people he’s stopped are Hispanic and newer to the area. He told FOX 5 some did really believe they were purchasing a legitimate tag and were devastated to learn they were instead duped by a member of their own community. Those drivers may now also be facing fines and impound fees because it.
Police also know some drivers may be using these tags to bypass the state’s registration process. We’re told some of the cars they’re stopping are so dangerous on the road, they should be scrapped.
Going back to that federal indictment, investigators apparently found some of these temp tags were popping-up at crime scenes.
"If a crime’s committed. We have no way to trace the vehicle. If they’re involved in an accident, we have no way to know who’s driving the vehicle or if they’re insured – or if they should even be driving the vehicle," said Cowell, which is another reason why they want them off the streets.
Police know fraudulent Maryland, Virginia and Delaware temp tags are also an issue in the area. We were able to pull-up adds showing Maryland and Virginia temporary tags being advertised as "for sale" on Facebook marketplace.
Thank you to a Twitter follower named "Romeo" who noted a Facebook post from February, where Fairfax County Police announced the arrest of a woman police believe was selling fake Texas temp tags out of an Annandale Office.
FOX 5 also asked D.C. police about temp tags seen on a number of suspect vehicles in press releases from the past year or two. We are still waiting for their response.
Police are actively investigating the issue in Montgomery County. If you see a tag that appears questionable, Cowell says do not engage. Call police so they can look into the matter.
A spokesperson with the Texas DMV said in an emailed statement to FOX 5:
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) has been partnering with law enforcement to stop the improper use of temporary tags. The department recognizes the impacts of fraudulent use of temporary tags and is continually analyzing opportunities to work with our partners to put stronger safeguards in place to prevent misuse.
Last year, TxDMV invited members of law enforcement, motor vehicle dealer representatives, and members of the public to serve on our Consumer Protection Advisory Committee. This committee studied the issue and made recommendations to the TxDMV Board ahead of the 87th Legislative Session, resulting in the passage of HB 3927, which makes several changes to how temporary tags are administered.
The new law includes a recommendation from the TxDMV Board to allow rule-making authority to set the maximum number of temporary tags licensed dealers can issue.
The maximum number will be based on quantifiable metrics including time in operation, sales data, expected growth, and expected market changes. The bill also expands the authority of TxDMV to include denying access to the temporary tag database for users who fraudulently obtain tags from the database.
Earlier this month, our Motor Vehicle Industry Regulation Advisory Committee met twice to discuss temporary tags and provide recommendations to our board related to the implementation of HB 3927.
The audio recordings of those meetings were provided here: meetings page
The spokesperson also noted: "the term temporary tags encompasses a variety of tags, including buyer’s tags, dealer tags, transit permits, one-trip permits, 30-day permits, 72-hour permits, and 144-hour permits."