KPRC 2 Investigates: ‘Big problem’ with new design of Texas temp tags

Why some law enforcement officers say the redesigned tags may not solve the problem with fakes

HOUSTON – Beginning Dec. 9, 2022, when you buy a new or used vehicle the temporary paper plate you’ll get on it will look a little different. It’s part of the Department of Motor Vehicle’s plan to crack down on fraudulent paper tags. But some law enforcement officers are already saying there’s a big problem with the new design. KPRC 2 Investigates is looking into why they say it doesn’t go far enough.

KPRC 2 Investigates first exposed the fake tags problem in 2019

KPRC 2 Investigates paper tags (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

Criminals were applying for dealer licenses for the sole purpose of being able to print and sell these temporary paper license plates. A lot has happened over the last year to try and fix the massive problem. But the one thing that has not changed - the temporary plates will still be paper, files that can be manipulated and printed anywhere.

Old style vs new style of paper license plate tags in Texas. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

You can see from the above photo, the difference between the old and new versions of the Texas buyer’s tag issued by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Imagine them affixed to the back of a car driving down the freeway. Can you tell a difference?

“Yeah, you changed it once again, and that’s great. But you haven’t solved the problem,” Travis County Sgt. Jose Escribano has been chasing Texas’ fraudulent paper plate problem and the criminals creating them for years.

In the last 12 months, since we exposed the problem of letting criminals into the DMV system, these things have happened:

  • The Executive Director of the DMV stepped down
  • The board restricted the number of temporary paper plates dealers can sell
  • In September the state started fingerprinting all new dealer license applicants

But since licenses are good for two years Escribano said some criminals could still be in the DMV system and when the new temporary plates come out they still have access to the PDF file.

“And you know your average seven-year-old with Adobe pro can go ahead and manipulate that information,” said Escribano.

Just last month a Grand Prairie police officer died in the line of duty pursuing a vehicle with fake paper plates.

“In his case over 200 of that same tag had been used throughout Dallas with that same tag.”

Proposed bill does away with paper tags altogether

Escribano says eliminating paper license plates completely will solve the problem. One Fort Worth State Representative has proposed a bill moving in that direction. House bill 718 would eliminate temporary paper buyer’s tags. Escribano is working to get the bill to eliminate all paper tags from Texas.

“The paper plates are just too easy to do a hard plate. I’m not saying that they can’t do hard because they do a little more difficult,” said Escribano.

We did reach out to the DMV for this story. A spokesperson sent this statement:

“No additional changes to the design are currently planned, but the department will continue to evaluate alternatives as viable solutions are identified.”

What is next?

This Friday, the same day the new paper plates roll out, the senate committee on criminal justice will meet in Austin to talk about this and what more can be done about the illegal temporary license plates. We will follow that hearing and let you know what happens.

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.