Temp Tag Tuesday: Hey, Governor, I Have Your Illegal Fraud License Plate Right Here!
This is the fourth 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. This is the first episode with a temporary plate that is not from New Jersey. To read prior episodes, click here. And, as promised, “Temp Tag Tuesday” now has a theme song, too. Click here to listen.
The governor of Maryland is now the proud owner of a completely fraudulent temp tag — and he doesn’t even know it.
I got bored of constantly embarrassing the state of New Jersey by purchasing three illegally issued temporary license plates over the past month, so I decided to cast a wider net and ensnare shady car dealers from other states whose lax regulations and limited enforcement have also contributed to the black market in fugazy temporary tags that’s flourishing in New York City.
As Streetsblog revealed in a soon-to-be-Pulitzer-nominated series by Jesse Coburn, dealers — some real, some fake — in multiple states sell temporary tags to car owners who have either lost their license or want to evade speed cameras (remember: the city Department of Transportation told Coburn that its cameras can’t read even legitimate temporary tags).
This week, I found an ad on Facebook for “Temp Tags USA,” which bragged of being “veteran-owned,” and made everything sound so legal:
Are you tired of waiting in long lines and dealing with paperwork just to get temporary plates and registration? Let us make it easy for you!
Here at Temp Tags U.S.A, we offer fast and hassle-free temporary plates and registration services. Whether you’re a new vehicle owner needing temporary plates while waiting for your permanent ones or a business needing registration for your fleet of vehicles, we’ve got you covered. Our experienced team will ensure that your plates and registration are processed quickly and efficiently.
Don’t let temporary plates and registration hold you back. Send us a message today so you can get back on the road or focus on your business.
Reminder: it’s illegal for a dealer to sell or issue a temporary license plate to someone unless that person has bought or leased a car from said dealer. And in Maryland, the rules even require the dealer to perform a safety inspection before the sale. Yeah, no, that didn’t happen in this case.
Instead, all I did was start texting with Temp Tags U.S.A. Like with other fraudulent dealers, this guy asked me for various information about the car (I don’t own one) and my identity.
I sent over a bogus vehicle identification number, plus my name — Wes Moore (who happens to be the governor of Maryland) — and my address, 110 State Circle in Annapolis, which just happens to be the address of the Old Line State’s capitol building.
None of the errant information bothered my dealer. I used Cashapp to send over the $130 and within an hour, I received a PDF of what appeared to be a real Maryland temp, but is not (state officials said the “G” is a dead giveaway). The dealer name — Enterprise RAC Company of Maryland — appears to refer to Enterprise Rent a Car — and it is common for rental car companies to sell cars once they reach a certain mileage.
But it’s still illegal to sell a temp tag to someone who has not bought said car. So I reached out to Enterprise and it’s worth a little digression to see what happened when I simply wanted to report pretty basic fraud.
I called Enterprise’s corporate office in Rockville, Maryland and ended up in multiple phone menus, which I was told to pay close attention to, “as our menu options have changed.” I finally got a human on the phone and he told me to call the company’s main number, which I did, whereupon I was sent back down a bunch more menus.
When I again got a human on the phone, she told me the only way to get a media rep on the phone was to go to Enterprise.com and use the “Chat with Us” feature — a bot that I have found never works. Indeed, when I typed, “Hi, I’m a news reporter. I need to speak to someone in the media office,” the response was, “I didn’t get that. Try rephrasing your question.”
I rephrased it to, “I am a member of the media,” and got this as an answer: “Do you have your Enterprise loyalty number?”
“No,” I typed. “I need to speak to someone who takes questions from the media.” Again, I was told, “I didn’t get that. Try rephrasing your question.” Finally, I just typed, “Corporate office,” and got a form to send my note. I mentioned “fraud,” but no one ever got back to me. The whole process took 45 minutes.
But perhaps Enterprise corporate has nothing to do with this. There is an Enterprise RAC of Maryland LLC registered with Maryland’s motor vehicles authorities — and the company issued 2,118 temp tags in 2021 — but the dealer number for the registered company doesn’t match the one on my plate. (A Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration spokesperson later told me that Enterprise RAC “is in good standing” and when the agency contacted the company, it confirmed that it “did not issue this temporary tag.” Still, it would have been nice to be called back, just sayin’.)
After the transaction was completed with Temp Tags U.S.A., I texted the company again to find out how this could possibly be legal, and my dealer said that basically he’s a “broker” for actual dealers. Interestingly, this is a truncated version of what the company told Streetsblog previously for its his three-part investigation. The representative of the company explained that his business is legal because, “We wholesale them. We work with dealers that issue them. … Each tag is specific to each vehicle. We get the VIN and information.” (Reminder: I gave a fake VIN number.)
“We can only do the states where we have dealers who actually register the vehicles,” he added. “We have dealers that we work with. We don’t register them ourselves.” (Reminder: No dealer sold me a car, so this is fraud. It’s plausible that the tag is “real” in the sense that some co-conspirator actually “registers” the car in Maryland’s motor vehicle database, but it’s still illegal because I didn’t buy a car from anyone.)
“All our tags are in the system, and that’s probably why we’ve been able to do it for a while,” he said, then claimed to be an altruist of some sort. “We actually help out a lot of people who can’t get hard plates. Sometimes they can’t make it to the DMV [because] the hours might interfere with their work hours. Sometimes they might not have enough money to go get their hard plates. Sometimes dealers will sell cars at auctions. [The buyers] need tags just to transport them home.”
I reached out to Maryland authorities because all of this sounded shady — like legit dealers were merely contracting with an outside company, which could be a guy in his mom’s basement spitting out PDFs of legit tags to non-car-buyers on a TRS-80.
Update: After initial publication of this story, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration got back to me with additional information, namely, that the tag is fake and that putting the governor’s name and address, or a fake VIN, on a tag “would not be possible on a legitimate sale.”
The agency also sent over this statement:
At the moment that an individual obtains any Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration product using someone else’s personal information, identity fraud has occurred. MVA is committed to supporting the prevention, detection, and investigation of temporary tag fraud, misuse, and abuse. We track and investigate complaints against licensed motor vehicle dealers including their misuse of the temporary tag system. Any suspected criminal activity, either committed by an individual or business, is immediately brought to the attention of law enforcement for appropriate investigation and enforcement.
Stopping the use of fraudulent products is a major priority of MVA.
It is illegal for persons and businesses to alter, forge, falsify, or counterfeit MVA-issued documents (for example, driver’s license/identification cards, vehicle titles, registration cards, disabled person parking placards, etc.) in an attempt to pass them as genuine. …
As an administrative agency, we provide any suspected criminal activity to our law enforcement partners for proper analysis and enforcement. We also review information related to fraudulent activity reported by all law enforcement agencies and work with investigators to offer material helpful to their enforcement procedures.
We encourage the public and representatives of the motor vehicle industry to report all fraudulent activity, as MVA works to support our law enforcement partners throughout the state in reducing the illegal use of temporary tags. At MVA, we are strongly committed to supporting the prevention, detection, and investigation of temporary tag fraud, misuse and abuse. …
The person who issued this tag is fraudulently creating temporary tags using a dealer’s legitimate information. A dealer’s ID number is public information that a criminal can access online and attempt to use for fraudulent purposes. A fake VIN would have been flagged in MVA’s system and would have prevented any further actions.
Whew, I’m glad that all got worked out. Until next time, check out my new hit, “Temp Tag Tuesday,” below: