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N.J. and Georgia Lawmakers Pledge Action on Temp Tag Fraud Detailed In Streetsblog Investigation

12:01 AM EDT on April 18, 2023

Pols in Georgia and New Jersey (clockwise from top left, N.J. Assembly Members Clinton Calabrese and Paul Moriarty, and Georgia Sen. Josh McLaurin and Rep. John Corbett) pledged to act to crack down on temp tag fraud.
Illustration: Martin Schapiro

Lawmakers in New Jersey and Georgia said they plan to introduce legislation to combat the black market for temporary license plates detailed this month in a Streetsblog investigation, which found car dealers selling the paper tags illegally and drivers using them to skirt accountability on the road.

New Jersey Assembly Member Paul Moriarty called Streetsblog's findings "disturbing" and said they "require a legislative response." Moriarty said his staff is developing a bill to tackle one aspect of the issue in particular: the small fines that New Jersey typically imposes on dealers caught violating temporary tag regulations despite the large sums that dealers can make selling tags illegally.

"At a minimum, fines should be dramatically increased," said Moriarty, a Democrat. "Criminal penalties should also be considered."

New Jersey typically fines dealers caught fraudulently issuing tags $500 to $1,000, Streetsblog found. Authentic temporary license plates, known as temp tags, sell for at least $100 on the black market, and Streetsblog found dealers who printed thousands or tens of thousands of them before they were caught, meaning possible profits in the six-to-seven figures.

In Georgia, another state whose temp tags commonly appear in New York City, state Rep. John Corbett, a Republican who chairs the Georgia House of Representatives Motor Vehicles Committee, told Streetsblog he plans to "take a deeper dive into the issue" with his committee and then introduce legislation to tackle the problem during the state's next legislative session, which begins in January.

Streetsblog found widespread fraud involving temporary license plates, with licensed used car dealers exploiting loose regulations to sell the tags illegally to buyers who use them to mask their identities while skipping tolls, driving without car insurance or committing more serious crimes. It's illegal for car dealers to issue temp tags without selling or leasing someone a car. Temps from New Jersey and Georgia are among the most common paper tags on the streets of New York City.

Georgia state Sen. Josh McLaurin echoed Corbett's call for state action on the issue and said Georgia should make it harder for dealers to sell temp tags instead of simply increasing punishments for those caught in the act.

"I would like to see regulatory enforcement to prevent these businesses from ever getting into a position of being able to issue these tags in the first place," said McLaurin, a Democrat. "Being able to crack down administratively on what are essentially fake dealerships to prevent them from printing these plates en masse, that’s a really strong administrative route towards preventing harm, preventing wrongdoing, that I would be eager to explore."

One such approach might involve the state auditing dealers before granting them the right to issue tags, McLaurin said, to ensure they are legitimate businesses. Dealers in other states must go through an additional application process to issue temp tags even after receiving their dealership licenses. That's not required in either Georgia or New Jersey.

In a statement, Georgia state Sen. Sonya Halpern said it was "concerning" that her state "plays such a significant role in the temporary license plate black market."

Halpern, a Democrat, said she plans to research what steps the state can take to address the issue.

New Jersey Assembly Member Clinton Calabrese told Streetsblog he has also begun conversations with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and other relevant agencies to rectify issues with the state's temp tag system.

"Clearly, the lax regulations regarding parking spaces, penalties, etc. need to be corrected as soon as possible," the Democrat told Streetsblog in an email.

New Jersey requires used car dealers to have space to display just two vehicles. In Georgia, dealers not required to have any display space. Those minimal requirements are among many dealership and temp tag rules that are more permissive in New Jersey and Georgia than in other states.

The calls to action in New Jersey and Georgia follow a similar legislative proposal in New York City, where Council Member Oswald Feliz (D-Bronx) announced legislation last week to create fines for people selling temp tags illegally and to increase fine for drivers using fraudulent tags.

Other elected officials have been quiet on the issue.

The office of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp did not respond to requests for comment on Streetsblog's findings. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's office declined to comment.

Mayor Adams announced a crackdown last summer on drivers using sham paper tags, but his office also did not respond to requests for comment on Streetblog's findings.

The New York City Police Department towed 3,300 cars with paper plates last year, the NYPD told Streetsblog previously.

Safe streets advocates in New Jersey expressed frustration with the muted response from lawmakers.

"No one's really acknowledged it publicly," Tyler Newcomb, a board member of Safe Streets Jersey City, said of temp tag fraud. "It's very frustrating."

Jimmy Lee, the group's president, said that fake and fraudulent tags endanger pedestrians, cyclists and others on the road by making it harder to track down dangerous drivers who use them. The plate numbers on such tags often are not traceable to the vehicle owner or driver.

"It emboldens people to drive recklessly," Lee said. "It's making our streets more dangerous."

Lee and Newcomb called on New Jersey to tighten its laws and regulations on temp tags, and for local police departments to aggressively go after drivers using bad tags.

Lee also questioned whether New Jersey should do away with temp tags entirely, a step that Texas is now considering.

"This is a huge New Jersey scandal," Lee said. "I hope the governor and the legislature can deal with this problem immediately."

Streetsblog found that at least 109 dealers in Georgia and New Jersey have been caught violating temp tag regulations in recent years. Those dealers have printed more than 275,000 temp tags since 2019.

Streetsblog identified another 25 dealers in Georgia and New Jersey that collectively issued 67,000 temp tags last year alone while displaying few features of a normal retail car business. They have no company websites featuring cars for sale, no online customer reviews and no listings on Google Maps. But, on average, each purportedly sold or leased more than seven cars per day last year—a rate of commerce that industry veterans said was improbable without an online presence.

This story has been updated to include a statement from Georgia state Sen. Sonya Halpern.

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