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Phony License Plates Flood Philly, Hampering Investigations

Fake license plates are showing up increasingly on getaway cars in shootings, carjackings, hit and runs and car thefts thanks to some states' lax rules on issuing temporary tags, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Cpl. Jasmine Reilly, a Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson, said fraudulent plates impede police investigations. “Unfortunately, individuals use paper tags as an additional layer to avoid identification during criminal activity,” Reilly said. “Criminals are aware of the limited information attached to the use of paper tags … and will use that to their advantage to avoid detection or apprehension.” Philadelphia police officials acknowledge the department lacks automated plate readers and other technology to trace cars with faked tags. Nor does it log incidents of forged plates, or track those used in multiple crimes.


Texas recently overhauled its car tag regulations and penalties following reports of a “tagdemic” that may have put 1.2 million fraudulent plates into circulation. Pennsylvania only issues temporary plates for out-of-state car purchases, which are relatively few, according to the state Department of Transportation. But neighboring Delaware began allowing car dealers to print temporary registration plates in 2012, intending to close car sales more quickly while electronically forwarding new owner information to law enforcement. Then the pandemic slowed how quickly the department could process requests for permanent license plates. Those delays led to the department sending some people 60-day temporary tags three times in a row, said Kathryn Beasley, of the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles. Licensed Delaware dealers issued 152,170 temporary tags last year using the “print on demand” system, a pace that has surged this year — with 97,329 as of May, she said. To compound the problem, many fraudulent tags are complete fabrications.

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