INVESTIGATORS Scrambling as Evidence Disintegrates

( – A piece of paper is all needed to make an automobile and its passengers nearly impossible to track down. 

Temporary license plates must be issued to all newly purchased vehicles in accordance with state legislation. Authorities and lawmakers say this practice is being exploited.

The black market for unlawful “ghost tags” thrives because they help cars avoid paying taxes, registration fees, and tolls.

Forgers in large cities like New York and Philadelphia often produce plates from neighboring states like New Jersey and Delaware because they are common enough to blend into the backdrop but foreign sufficient that local police may not identify slight differences in security mechanisms.

A paper tag can also be created with a home computer and printer.

“Ghost cars” are often uninsured, and some may not even be safe to drive. If you get into an accident with one of these vehicles, your insurance must pay for damages. Both drivers and the government have to foot the bill. Revenue from registrations and  inspections is declining, costing states tens of millions annually. 

Paper plates are also a tool of the trade for violent criminals.

In 2021, Aaron Ravenell was fatally shot outside a takeaway Philadelphia restaurant. Surveillance footage shows the shooters getting into a gray Ford Fusion with a temporary paper license plate. 

Paper plates stood out as a novelty back then. They’ve been discovered recently on the getaway vehicles in multiple shootings and unsolved deaths.

A politician in New Jersey has proposed a significant step toward ending the black market for temporary license plates by drafting legislation making it illegal to trade in and use counterfeit paper tags.

Assembly Member Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester) proposed legislation imposing a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $15,000 on anyone caught selling or attempting to sell temporary tags. 

Drivers caught using counterfeit license plates could face 18 months in jail and a $10,000 fine. A $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail apply for even being caught possessing a fake tag.

If you make an illegal paper plate, you may find yourself making the real ones in a state prison.

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