AUSTIN (KXAN) — All Texas car dealers, or those hoping to become one, will have to be fingerprinted, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles decided Thursday.
In an 8-1 vote, the TxDMV approved the fingerprint requirement. The measure comes in response to widespread fraud tied to Texas’ temporary paper license plates, which KXAN has investigated. It has ballooned into a $200 million black market.
Under the rule, new car dealers will have to verify their identity through fingerprinting, at a cost of $38.25, during their application process. Existing car dealers, however, don’t have to submit to fingerprinting until their licenses are renewed. That means all dealers in the state might not be verified for another two years.
“The measure doesn’t go far enough but it’s a start,” said Sgt. Jose Escribano with the Travis County Constable’s Office. “We’re still chasing ghosts.”
Fraudulent paper tags can turn any vehicle into a “ghost car,” allowing criminals to openly hide. Board members, and law enforcement, say fingerprinting will significantly cut down on fraud. The Texas Automobile Dealers Association pushed back before the vote, saying the focus should instead be on how easily tags can be counterfeited. A representative declined to be interviewed.
Stacey Gillman of Houston, who owns 10 car dealerships, was the lone vote against the measure. Despite law enforcement assessment that this will significantly reduce fraud, she said she is concerned “it will not really solve the problem.”
Escribano disagrees. He has been fighting for this for three years and calls it a “very, very key component” to stopping fraud.
While some critics call the move a “burden” on law-abiding dealers, KXAN found other professions that require fingerprinting in order to get a license include: massage therapists, realtors, racetrack owners, child care providers, teachers, security, armed guards, security system contractors, insurance adjusters/agents, housing manufacturers and salespeople, and loan officers.
The TxDMV vote comes a little over a month since Escribano and his team busted an undercover seller in Austin. Hidden camera video, given to KXAN by the Travis County Constable’s Office, shows it takes just a few minutes, and $75 cash, to buy a counterfeit tag sold on Facebook. The social media giant previously told KXAN it would crack down on paper tags sold on its site.
“We’re going to find them eventually,” said Escribano, who calls Texas’ paper tag problem the “number one threat” facing law enforcement nationwide.
The fingerprint requirement takes effect Sept. 1. Law enforcement had requested the change take place immediately but TxDMV officials say it needs time to update its systems and give the industry notice.
The board plans to ask lawmakers for more money to hire nine full-time employees to help with fingerprint processing. Members also gave the green light to allow lawmakers greater access to its tag records for ongoing criminal investigations.