TEMP TAG TUESDAY: This Time, We Got a Fraud Plate — and Fraud Insurance, Too!
This is the second edition of Streetsblog’s new feature, “Temp Tag Tuesday,” which explores how easy it is to buy illegal temporary license plates and how little local and out-of-state officials are doing to stop the scourge. To read the first episode, click here.
It’s worse than we knew.
The other day, I bought my second fraudulent temporary New Jersey license plate — and for an extra $50, the criminal who sold me the paper tag tacked on some fraudulent insurance, too.
Neither, of course, is legit.
Continuing my ongoing, soon-to-be-viral series, Temp Tag Tuesday — which is inspired by investigative reporter Jesse Coburn’s ground-breaking series on fraudulent license plates earlier this month — I found another huckster on Craigslist the other day who was very willing to let me become a ghost-car-driving scofflaw for a price.
“Temp Plate – $250 (Manhattan (Tri State Area)),” the parenthetically obsessive headline read.
“Authentic [CHECK MARK] Waterproof Temporary plates available. Registration is included as well. Insurance is a must however, if you do not have your own it can be provided for an additional fee.”
I texted the phone number and was offered a blizzard of details that suggested a business engaged in legal activity: there was a menu of prices ($200 for New Jersey residents, $250 for out-of-state residents, $75 for a 30-day insurance policy), plus a request for certain pieces of information that, again, suggested that this was all on the up and up.
Of course it was not.
Indeed, as Coburn’s investigation reminded, it’s illegal for dealers to issue a temporary tag unless they have also sold the same person the car in question.
Since I did not buy the car from this particular dealer on Craigslist, any sale of a temporary registration or insurance was as shady as the Alley Pond Giant. Still, a charade is a charade, and this one was delicious.
Despite the fact that he could make up all the details if he wanted, the dealer still sought my vehicle identification number, the make and model of the alleged car, its mileage, my name and my address. I provided all of the information, albeit in slightly inaccurate form, just to see if it mattered.
It didn’t. I gave my porn name (aka my first name, plus the street on which I grew up), a fake VIN number and a fake address (my local bar, seemed appropriate given how much time I spend there).
The man also wanted to know if I had insurance — which I don’t. For another $75, he’d get me temporary coverage, he said.
Great. I wouldn’t want to be driving around with a fraudulent license plate and no fake insurance, now would I?
We made an arrangement to meet on Charlton Street in SoHo. And the final price was $250 for the 30-day New Jersey temp tag, $50 for the insurance, and $30 for “tolls.” This temp tag fraud can get into real money!
A few hours later, a man pulled up in a New Jersey-plated sports car with illegally tinted windows. He seemed a bit taken aback. “I sell to a lot of fellows,” he said, “but they’re usually a little rougher around the edges.” I was a bit offended, but I handed over the cash and got my fraudulently issued imprimatur for illegality.
The waterproof paper and the format matched legitimate New Jersey temp plates. And the QR code linked to information that a real temp tag links to.
Then the story got better.
The “Dealer license” number on the plate — 07586U — does not match the name on the plate, JNC Auto Sales. But the number does show up in the New Jersey database, registered to a dealership called Hutchy Motors.
Hutchy Motors operates out of a multi-dealer location in Bridgeton, N.J., one of the locations that have flourished due to lax regulations in the Garden State that allow dealers to operate despite having no apparent business operation or even cars for sale. As Coburn reported:
On paper, the facility in Bridgeton — a small post-industrial city in southern New Jersey — is the most bustling site of used car sales in the state. At least, that is the case when counting by the number of temporary license plates that dealers there are churning out: 137,000 in 2021, a 500-percent increase over 2019, data show. But a gate blocks the entrance, few people ever appear to be coming or going, and the vast parking lot to display cars always seems to be empty.
Here’s a picture of the Bridgeton complex that’s churning out so many obviously fake tags (if it was selling actual cars to go with those tags, it would mean that dealers at this empty parking lot sold 375 cars every day in 2021):
Hutchy Motors seems to be operating in this shady world. In all of 2020, it issued just 55 temp tags in 2020, but the very next year, it issued 2,009, which would be more than five cars a day, every day. Last year, Hutchy was down to 1,228 temp tags
At $250 a pop, Hutchy brought in $823,000 since 2020, minus, of course, the gasoline it burns delivering fake documents across state lines.
With its prodigious perfidious printing, Hutchy is in the top 1 percent of temp tag issuers in New Jersey, according to state records.
Oh, and that insurance? It’s as fake as a $3 bill. Sure, it was printed on Geico stationery, including the company’s logo, legalese and even its correct customer service number (see right), but it another fraud.
I called the company to see if the policy number showed up in its records, but was told that not only didn’t the company have any record of the policy, but that it never issues 30-day insurance.
“It’s either six months or 12 months,” the customer service representative told me.
I told her I was a reporter writing about this apparently widespread scam, and needed to speak to someone authorized to talk to the press. Her cheery voice drained away and she spoke gravely about the notion that the company was defrauded along with me. She took my number and promised me someone would call me back, given, as she put it, how serious this was.
No one from the company ever bothered to get back to me. I also had a raft of questions for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission about Hutchy’s scam, but the agency declined to answer any of them.
I also emailed Hutchy Motors and the landlord for the Bridgeton complex, but neither got back to me.
Meanwhile, if I wanted to give my temporary tag to a friend, he or she could drive through red lights or drive recklessly through school zones or fly past tolls with complete impunity.
Well, not complete impunity, apparently. According to the NYPD, it “took 7,520 vehicles into custody for a fake plate and/or had a paper plate on the vehicle while parked in violation.”
Considering there are tens of thousands of these cars driving around New York City right now, more work needs to be done.
— with Jesse Coburn