Fake plates in Harris County: 306% jump in crimes, $80M lost in revenue, report shows

Fraudulent paper plates are a becoming a major problem in Harris County, according to a new report.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Adrian Garcia discussed the findings of the report, which highlights the safety and financial consequences of fake temporary vehicle tags, on Tuesday morning.

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"We've known all along that this was the threat, and now we have the receipts as to the impact that the fake paper plates are having, not just on the county budget, but on our public safety as well," Judge Hidalgo said.

According to the report, crimes involving vehicles with temporary tags have jumped significantly in the last six years. The reported crimes, which include speeding, theft, and burglary, were up 306%.

In 2016, there were 1,705 crimes involving cars with fake paper tags, while in 2021, there were 6,920.

"Making matters worse, these paper tags stole millions of dollars that Harris County could have used to serve our constituents," Judge Hidalgo said.

The analysis shows that fake plates have resulted in $80 million in lost revenue for the county since 2016. It's from the fraudulent tags going through toll roads, and skipping on new title and registration renewal fees.

Commissioner Garcia added that this substantial, lost money can't be collected now.

"This is money that could have gone to improving our mobility, improving our roadways, improving our drainage, improving our community, supporting law enforcement, but that money is lost," he said.

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The Harris County leaders are now turning to state legislators for action, saying there are still some loopholes that need to be closed.

"We need statewide support over and above what has already been done to solve this statewide problem. We need statewide reforms of the temporary tag loopholes," Judge Hidalgo said. "We need a solution to a system that's been broken. We need a solution that puts safety number one over and above automotive sales."

One of the biggest loopholes is anyone can set up a fake dealership online and then sell thousands of paper tags for extra money. People purchase these because their car would fail inspection, to avoid taxes and tolls, or hide their identity to commit crimes.

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Commission Garcia says it's making harder for our officers to do their jobs.

"We welcome the industry to work with us, as we have worked with others, to be better stewards of the people's public safety. And most importantly, ensuring that law enforcement doesn't have to work even harder than they're already doing to help solve crimes."