Paper Plates from Jersey Make Scamming NYC Easy!

Temporary New Jersey license plates. File photos: Ben Verde
Temporary New Jersey license plates. File photos: Ben Verde

Car dealerships in upper Manhattan are taking parking theft to a new level of scam.

Two used car dealers — Charlie Auto Sales and Riverdale Motors, both near 216th Street in Inwood — have been using temporary New Jersey license plates to store their unsold merchandise near the dealerships — the latest twist on long and ugly history of car dealers being a neighborhood problem. In this case, the temporary tags are swapped among many vehicles or simply duplicated. The temporary plates — some of them expired — prevent the police from ticketing the vehicles, locals say.

“The NYPD sees the car has a plate on it, so they don’t ticket it for being parked in the street,” said a neighborhood resident, who asked to remain anonymous because he fears retaliation from the dealerships. “The tags are rotated and even copied, but NYPD doesn’t seem to care — even after they expire.”

The temporary paper tags are a real thing — they’re how New Jersey’s DMV allows residents of other states to drive away with their just-purchased car from a dealership in New Jersey. In order to obtain a temporary plate, dealers fill out a form for the buyer and pay just $5. The tags expire after 30 days — enough time for the driver to obtain a real plate in his or her home state. As such, the temporary tag cannot be renewed, according to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. It’s unclear how the Inwood dealerships obtained so many tags, though it is likely they are merely photocopying them.

On a recent visit, Streetsblog spotted seven cars with temporary New Jersey plates near the two dealerships, all on 10th Avenue. Three cars were parked on the street with temporary tags: a black Toyota sedan,  a white sedan and a green van — two of them bearing the Charlie Auto Sales logo on their bumpers. The block of 10th Avenue where Charlie Auto Sales is situated was clogged by parked and double-parked cars, many of them without plates at all.

Here are different temporary plates on the same car (left on May 30, right on June 3). Photos: Ben Verde
Here are different temporary plates on the same car (left on May 30, right on June 3). Photos: Ben Verde

Also present were four cars — a red Nissan Quest, a red Ford F-150 and a two blue Honda CRVs — parked on the property of a nearby gas station. Three out of the four cars had temporary license plates that matched plates seen on different vehicles in earlier photos obtained by Streetsblog. On any given day, the same paper plate might be on multiple cars — or on a different car from day to day.

Take the fake plate, 262626R: On a recent day, the very same tag appeared on the CRV, the F-150 and the white sedan – all parked on the same block. Worse, that illegally used fake plate had expired on Jan. 11, 2019. The same plate can be seen on five other vehicles in earlier photos obtained by Streetsblog — a white Ford Transit, a white Chevy Silverado, a blue Ford van, a green Toyota and a white Ford Tahoe. The Transit van — unplaced — was in the Charlie Auto Sales lot when Streetsblog visited.

Then it showed up on a used green Toyota.
Then it showed up on a used green Toyota.

The plates on the Nissan Quest, 311252R, can be seen on an earlier photo of a blue Honda minivan parked in the street.

The owner of Charlie Auto Sales — who, indeed, gave the name Charlie, but declined to give his last name — claimed he doesn’t park his cars outside of his lot because he had received steep fines in the past. But he admitted to occasionally still doing it anyway.

“I never said I don’t take the cars outside, believe me you get a lot of tickets,” he said.

Charlie denied his improper use of temporary plates — and would not discuss why several of the cars parked on the street had his dealership’s insignia on their bumper.

“Anything outside of my business has nothing to do with me,” he said.

A manager at Riverdale Motors, located across from Charlie Auto Sales at 5089 Broadway, also denied using the temporary tags.

“We don’t do that,” he said.

The 34th Precinct does not seem to be doing anything to crack down on this scam.

Sgt. Douglas Perez told Streetsblog that the precinct is “working with Sanitation and NYPD traffic enforcement to address this issue.” But a neighborhood resident said the NYPD’s response was not enough.

“You don’t need a ‘plan’ to address something that is flat-out illegal,” he said. “Why doesn’t NYPD simply write them tickets? They certainly don’t hesitate to ticket residents on their blocks for the slightest infraction.”

The Department of Sanitation and the NYPD said that it removed 19 vehicles and issued 18 summonses on May 23 — but none of these vehicles belonged to Charlie Auto Sales or Riverdale Motors because Sanitation can’t do anything about vehicles with plates, according to spokeswoman Dina Montes, essentially admitting that the dealerships’ strategy works.

Charlie and his competitor know that the fake paper plates will keep their cars from being removed.