Thousands of fake paper tags posing dangerous problem on Texas roads

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County Investigators say since KXAN began investigating fraudulent Texas Buyer’s Tags sold back in 2017, car dealers have sold millions of dollars worth of fake tags, keeping tens of thousands of unsafe or stolen vehicles on the road in Texas.

After KXAN began investigating in 2017, the Texas DMV did make some changes, like adding watermarks to paper plates to make it harder to create photocopies — and making changes to how they can be ordered online. However, a new arrest shows that’s not necessarily cutting down on the problem.

An affidavit filed last week says investigators estimate that just a handful of licensed used car dealers have sold more than 100,000 fake Texas Buyer’s Tags since June of 2018, totaling more than $10 million.

Car dealers can access temporary tags from the state’s “e-tag” online system, but those are only legal when they’re selling a car to someone. Fraudulent paper tags are sold under the table, often to avoid safety inspections, emissions testing, vehicle registration or to hide that a vehicle’s been stolen.

Sergeant Jose Escribano investigates fraudulent buyer’s tags as a member of the Travis County Constable’s Clean Air Task Force. After a Round Rock police officer recently spotted a fake tag on a car in traffic, Escribano helped track down the suspected seller.

An affidavit says Cesar Aguirre was caught with more than 40 fraudulent Texas Buyer’s tags and receipts from three licensed Texas used car dealers. Investigators say those receipts show the businesses accessed the database and provided the fake tags to be sold.

Escribano says dealers advertise the fake tags on sites like Craigslist and Facebook marketplace.

The Constable’s Office has seen so many of these fake tags on the road that it started training local law enforcement agencies to spot them. Escribano says Round Rock police officers took that class, and that helped lead to Aguirre’s arrest.

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