July 27, 2022
Jessica Mahana

The Impact of Fraudulent Temporary Tags to Harris County

The Impact of Fraudulent Temporary Tags to Harris County

Temporary tags (also called paper plates) provide a simple solution for car dealers to process the transfer of a vehicle’s title and registration. Designed to act as a temporary registration, the tags contain key identification details for the buyer and dealer until a permanent metal license plate is provided.

Although meant for a limited purpose for vehicles in a temporary status, the number of paper plates issued in Harris County increased dramatically in the last six years, from 254,719 printed in FY2016 to over 2.2 million printed in FY2021.

During the same timeframe, Harris County saw a 306% (6,920) rise in criminal incidents involving fraudulent temporary tags. The Analyst's Office summarizes the impact of temporary tags on revenue and crime for the County.

Potential Misuse of the Temporary Tag System

Understanding how this process affects the county requires a bit of background on how dealers are meant to work with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) for vehicles in the process of title transfer and registration.

Valid temporary tags are issued by dealers licensed by the TxDMV to buyers at the time of vehicle purchase. Dealers are responsible for registering the purchased vehicle with the TxDMV, and includes using an independent general distinguishing number (GDN) license to generate the temporary tag. Anyone with access to a valid TxDMV GDN license could use the system to print fraudulent temporary tags and input false information, including fake vehicle identification numbers (VINs).

The example below shows a side-by-side comparison of a fraudulent temporary tag and a valid temporary tag. The valid temporary tag on the right is defined by its security features which were added by the TxDMV in 2018, including a 2-D hologram, barcode, Texas seal in the top right corner of the tag, and Bezier curves.

                                              Tag Blog.png

The Impact on Harris County Revenue and Crime

The use of fraudulent temporary tags impacts revenue to Harris County and is associated with crimes in Harris County.

Although not all temporary tags convert into titles and registrations—a temporary tag may be replaced, for example, if the original is lost or damaged, the table below illustrates the estimated potential revenue loss for Harris County due to the use of fraudulent temporary tags.

Total estimated potential lost revenue for Harris County sums to over $80 million through unbilled tolls (when a driver cannot be identified to pay a toll) and through uncollected fees when a temporary tag does not convert to a title and registration. 

In examining the effects of fraudulent temporary tags on crime inHarris County, the Analyst’s Office reviewed data from the Harris County  Sheriff’s Office and seven of the eight Harris County Constable’s Offices. FromFY2016 to FY2021, there were a total of 21,847 incidents involving a vehicle  with a temporary tag, equaling 1.8% of all incidents reported for the period.  Over the same period, the number of incidents involving vehicles using temporary tags increased by 306%.

The table below outlines the total incidents the select HarrisCounty law enforcement agencies reported between FY2016 to FY2021 that involve the use of a temporary tag.

Policy Changes and Initiatives

Jurisdictions across Texas (and around the United States) report similar issues associated with the use of fraudulent temporary tags.

House Bill 3927 was passed in 2021 during the Texas Legislature’s 87th Session to aid with reducing the use of fraudulent temporary tags by empowering the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to further regulate vehicle dealer access to the tools to produce temporary tags, in addition to other changes.

Locally, multiple Harris County departments have implemented strategies for addressing the use of fraudulent temporary tags, including investigations into mass producers of fraudulent tags, trainings that help law enforcement officers identify fraudulent tags, and targeted campaigns aimed at raising public awareness of fraudulent temporary tags. 

The Analyst’s Office Fraudulent Tags Memo proposes four options for consideration by the Harris County Commissioners Court and County departments and partners:

  • Support continued trainings for law enforcement officers on identifying and recording fraudulent temporary tags.
  • Encourage Harris County Toll Road Authority to continue working with constables’ deputies to expand roadside enforcement measures.
  • Support law enforcement offices collaborating with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) on investigating fraudulent temporary tag use.
  • Support the implementation of a statewide awareness campaign on the prevalence of fraudulent temporary tags.

Read the full memo on Fraudulent Temporary Tags in Harris County here.