TEXAS, USA — Temporary tags in Texas are getting a new look.
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles revealed its redesigned version on Thursday, with new security features aimed at fighting fake paper license plates on vehicles involved in crimes and drivers trying to avoid tolls and registration fees.
“In auto theft, the paper tags hit us hard. Those are guys breaking into cars. Those are the guys following people from the banks and robbing them," Houston Police Sgt. Tracy Hicks said.
Hicks said the ability to replicate the current paper plate design has been a challenge for investigators.
"It's been a problem for us because there are license plate readers ... a witness sees the car, takes a picture, writes down a plate and that plate doesn't come back anything," Hicks said. "The paper tag problem has been around a long time, and it seems to have gotten worse."
Licensed dealerships will start issuing the newly designed tags on Dec. 9.
The revamped version has several security and data features aimed to crack down on counterfeit tags and dealerships that sell them. In the updated version, the Texas flag is featured as a watermark in the background. There are also blurred-out squares that law enforcement plans to use to help identify fake tags.
In February, the head of the Texas DMV resigned amid pressure on the agency to address security vulnerabilities that allowed criminals to recreate and sell fake paper license plates.
When Whitney Brewster announced her resignation, she didn't address the issue directly.
“I understand the frustrations of our stakeholders to the problems and evolving situations we are working daily to resolve,” Brewster said in a statement Monday. “Often the hardest thing to do as a public servant leader is to step back and accept that you have done everything you can, and that it might be time to allow new leadership to take the reins.”
A loophole with the Texas DMV allowed dealerships to print and sell the temporary plates. In April, Harris County leaders cited a report saying crimes involving temporary tags increased more than 300% in the last six years.
County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said the fake plates have also cost Harris County an estimated $80 million in lost revenue over the same period.
In June, a Sugar Land man was charged in an elaborate scheme that included hundreds of thousands of fake paper license plates. Daniel Rocky Christine-Tani, 33, is accused of creating fake car dealerships to issue more than 700,000 illegal paper tags, according to U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery.
Hicks said the new design will be a huge help to the investigative processes, hoping to make criminals think twice.
"What we’re looking forward to is any less fraud, that is going be a win for us," Hicks said.