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Traffic Enforcement

Hey, Check Out the Cool (And Fake!) Plates You Can Order With A Few Mouse Clicks

Paper temp tags are so last year. You can get real metal plates — untraceable ones — all over the internet.

Photo: Liam Quigley|

We ordered this online. And if we put it on a car, it would completely fool automated enforcement cameras.

Paper temp tags are so last year.

As state governments finally lumber into a meaningful crackdown on illegal paper license plates, a new scourge has emerged: Scofflaw drivers are turning to counterfeit metal license plates which to the untrained eye resemble the Real McCoy. The bogus tags can be bought and customized for just $20 from online sellers and customized to whatever message or collection of characters you want.

Just a few examples of what we've seen out there.Photos: Liam Quigley

These aren’t the plainly bogus novelty plates available in tourist traps on Canal Street. They’re close enough to real that drivers use them to speed through red lights and evade tolls. And, later this year, avoid congestion pricing.

Even more insidious are authentic license plates that, at one point, were tied to a valid registration but are now collected at junkyards and elsewhere and then resold online.

For instance, a TikTok account listed “real license plates from real cars,” including Pennsylvania plates for $150, Connecticut for $130, and Washington State for $110. 

“These plates are unregistered and uninsured but are not stolen … or fake plates. These plates have no ties to you and therefore if you get pulled over with them you can get a ticket for improper plates,” the caption read.

“Legally, You are not supposed to be driving ANY car that the plates are not registered to. I don't care what you do with these plates, scrap them for money, use as a collectible, use them for street parking, use them on your vehicle at your own risk, idc nor am I suggesting anything,” the caption warned.

Potential buyers were directed to text “PLATES” to the NYC phone number in the videos. Texts sent to the number were not returned when this reporter identified himself as a journalist. That account was later deleted and moved to Facebook, but it is unclear if this dealer is still selling the real plates. In any event, other dealers continue to do so. 

Most states require drivers to surrender their plates when they sell their vehicles or risk license suspension (this reporter knows that from personal experience with a set of plates reading, believe it or not, NOCARS). But that doesn’t stop authentic plates from ending up online.

Some of them are fooling speed and red-light cameras right now. As Streetsblog reported, more than 7 percent of license plates flagged by speed cameras were unreadable back during one point in 2022 (the last year for which we have records). 

Some license plate collectors won’t sell plates to unknown buyers in New York City for fear of the tags ending up in the wrong hands, according to Ethan Craft, a plate collector who runs the TikTok account @LicensePlateTok.

“I’m sure it’s either people who don’t have insurance, correct registration, or cars that are obtained through some sketchy back channel. I’d imagine it’s a lot of the same people who previously were or would have been using bogus paper plates,” Craft said. 

“Myself and a lot of other license plate collectors, unless we’re dealing with someone we know, won’t sell to people in the greater New York City area or around D.C. where this is a big issue as well,” Craft added, citing two places with automated enforcement cameras.

“At this point, it’s better to not take the risk.” 

Amazon and other online retailers have agreed to suspend the sale of illegal plate covers to New York buyers. But with just a few clicks, Streetsblog was able to order a fairly convincing metal plate from eBay seller “signsandtagsonline” for just $20.96 — perfect for advertising our beloved brand. Dozens of sellers offer the bogus plates, and some are careful to note that they are novelty items. 

Video shared to TikTok shows a BMW parked in Brooklyn with bogus novelty plates meant to resemble real Massachusetts tags. Cops closed out a 311 complaint without taking action, according to the video. The plates can be bought for just $29.99, though the seller warns it’s illegal to use them in place of legitimate tags.

This guy does it just to look cool.

Some drivers even order bogus tags to display valid license plate numbers, like a Brooklyn G-Wagon driver who opted for the classic “Liberty” plates which haven’t been issued since 2000. (Perhaps this driver is hoping the DMV will reissue them, as they were the coolest design ever.) That driver has rung up over $10,000 in parking and camera tickets — yet it’s not a scam; the driver has paid them all. In this case, this vanity plate really is just vanity.

Department of Motor Vehicles spokesperson Tim O'Brien said that the agency regularly works with law enforcement to crack down on the use of counterfeit plates.

“Most plates sold online are marketed as ‘novelty plates,’ not for use on vehicles,” he said. “If someone observes a plate on the road that they suspect is fake, they should report it to law enforcement.”

So catch us ... if you can.

Some vanity is showy. Others is simply illegal.

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