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#TempTagTuesday: Pits from the Peachtree State

12:01 AM EDT on May 23, 2023

Here’s my Georgia tag and its rightful owner, Georgia Department of Revenue Commissioner Frank O’Connell.

This is the sixth and final installment of Streetsblog’s feature, “Temp Tag Tuesday,” which explores how insanely easy it is to buy illegal, out-of-state license plates and how little is being done by officials to stop the scourge. To read prior episodes, click here. And to listen to Jimmy and the Jaywalkers' “Temp Tag Tuesday” theme song, click here.

How easy is it to get a Georgia fake temp tag? I just purchased one in the name of the state's top motor vehicle official Frank O'Connell!

But this one is so fake that even a cop on Georgia Avenue in East New York could figure it out.

Click here to read our stunning series on temp tag fraud. Illustration: Martin Schapiro
Click here to read our stunning series on temp tag fraud. Illustration: Martin Schapiro
Click here to read our stunning series on temp tag fraud. Illustration: Martin Schapiro

First, the basics: Having read Jesse Coburn's masterful investigative series on temporary tag fraud, I knew that two states — New Jersey and Georgia — were basically cornering the market on shady, barely regulated dealerships that are churning out temporary tags and glutting the black market for buyers who want to turn their vehicles into untraceable ghost cars. And I knew from my own reporting that fake tags work — at one point last summer, the city Department of Transportation said about 7 percent of cars racing past speed cameras had temporary plates on them, rendering them unreadable to the automated enforcement system. The NYPD has called fake plates a "nexus of criminality" because so many crimes are committed by drivers of these untraceable cars.

Earlier in this series, I'd obtained three New Jersey tags under the most shadowy of circumstances — text messages to numbers I spotted on the internet, couriers scurrying around on scooters or in cars to meet me on street corners, a swift exchange of cash and little conversation.

So now it was time to see how easy it is to turn my friend's car into a Georgia-plated ghost. A few mouse clicks led me to the Facebook page of "Temp Tags For All Vehicles," which had a phone number an address in Lawrenceville, Georgia. I exchanged messages with the person on the other end — and the transaction was super simple: For $70, I would get a PDF of a 45-day temporary Georgia tag that I could print out on nice paper and screw to the back of any car.

All I had to do was send the relevant details — name, address, vehicle identification number, etc. — and then send the money via Cashapp. I did all that — but provided a fake VIN, plus the name and office address of Georgia's Department of Revenue Commissioner Frank O'Connell — and had the PDF in minutes.

But there's one problem: This temp is as fake as a $3 bill with Al Gore on the front and Big Ben on the back. How could I tell? Well, as a fan of YouTube, I certainly know that any real Georgia temp tag needs to be printed on state-issued paper that comes with an embossed gold seal on it. I mean, there are videos about that:

But my PDF just had a yellow circle where the embossed seal would be. Worse, the dealer number on the plate corresponds to a Carvana location in Winder, Georgia. (I called Carvana, but the company, which sells hundreds of thousands of cars every year, wasn't all that interested in a single fugazy plate.)

Other information on the plate suggested it was sold to me by Allen Luxury Auto Group, but that was also misinformation: I called Dwayne Allen, who is the only employee of the Allen Luxury Auto Group, and he was uber confused. First of all, his business is in Peachtree Corners, not Lawrenceville, and his dealer number is not the one on the tag.

"We don't sell temporary tags unless we sell you a car," he told me, accurately describing the only circumstances under which a car dealer can issue a tag. And state records back him up: Between December 2020 and November 2022, Allen Luxury Auto Group issued just 20 temp tags. Even if they were all fake, that's hardly a temp tag mill along the lines that Coburn discovered in his investigation.

But the location where Allen sells roughly one car a month is exactly the kind of multi-dealer location that Coburn exposed in his story: There are at least 81 dealers registered to the single address — 4005 Wetherburn Way in Peachtree Corners — and in 2022, those dealerships issued 3,260 temps, meaning that an average of nine cars were sold every day there.

Does this look like a place where nine cars a day are sold every day of the year?

On Google Maps, this building is identified as a home building company, not a car dealership.
On Google Maps, this building is identified as a home building company, not a car dealership.
On Google Maps, this building is identified as a home building company, not a car dealership.

"That's fucking insane," Dwayne Allen told me. "There are 50 broker offices in this building, so somebody probably stole my name" to issue the temp tag.

The person with whom I texted to obtain the tag offered a perfectly rational — and totally false — explanation: "We are a Lawrenceville dealer, but Allen Luxury is the one who processes the plates for us."

I reached out to Austin Gibbons, the spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Revenue, but all he said was that the temp tag "is not a legitimate temporary operating permit" (ya think?). He declined to explain how the Georgia temp tag system works so I could figure out how this online fraudster swiped a dealer number of one of America's largest online car vendors and the name of a completely different dealer in a different part of the state to issue me a temp tag in the name of the state's Department of Revenue commissioner.

So call me, Frank — I have your fake tag right here:

My fake tag.
My fake tag.
My fake tag.

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