It’s an issue that rarely if ever crosses the minds of most drivers in New York City or elsewhere: the fraudulent sale of temporary license plate tags — “temp tags” — and the subsequent illegal use of them in hit-and-run accidents, shootings and robberies.
In a detailed investigation published recently by StreetsBlog USA, a daily news site founded in 2006 that addresses solutions “to end car dependence in the United States,” readers will find the first part of a series called “Ghost Tags,” which claims to offer a look “inside New York City’s black market for temporary license plates.”
The reporting ties in the fraudulent sale of temporary plates by used car dealers in New Jersey and other states with drivers who skirt accountability in a number of violations and, in some cases, deaths. One such finding examines a hit-and-run in Queens, New York last year, in which a five-year-old boy died when he was struck by a driver with a suspended license and a counterfeit New Jersey temp tag. “Temps from New Jersey are among the most common on the streets of New York City, as are tags from Georgia and Texas,” the report says.
StreetsBlog looks at the dealings of several so-called “car dealers” that market temp tags illegally for $100 to $200 each. In one particularly stunning example, the report cities one F&J Auto Mall in Bridgeton, New Jersey, “although the primary owner listed an apartment in upper Manhattan as his address when forming the company, business records show. F&J issued 36,000 temporary license plates in 2021—more than any other dealership in the state, including the used-car juggernauts Carvana and CarMax combined.” Although potential profits for F&J were in the millions, the agency, which was shut down by the motor vehicles department, was fined $500.
Although fake temp tags can lead to more serious consequences, there’s the revenue involved. In New York, for example, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority alone loses around $11 million annually in unbillable tolls at its bridges and tunnels due to bad paper tags, according to the story. “Traffic tickets, sales taxes, registration fees and other tolls that go unpaid because of sham paper tags likely bring the total cost in New York into the tens of millions, if not higher,” the report says. “And with toll cameras set to encircle lower Manhattan when New York introduces congestion pricing next year, demand for fake temps may only grow, a market that unscrupulous car dealers would be eager to serve so long as weak regulations enable them to.”
“The system has so many loopholes that you can’t really stop it,” said Abdul Cummings, a used car dealer in Jersey City who watched demand for temp tags explode during the pandemic. “The system allows it.”
There much more deep-dive data—some of it disturbing—to be found here.