HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Fraudulent paper plate tags have quickly become a big problem in Harris County and on Tuesday morning, Judge Lina Hidalgo and commissioner Adrian Garcia discussed the findings of a new report.
"We have known all along that this was a threat and now we have the receipts," said Hidalgo during Tuesday's press conference.
Fake paper tags have resulted in a loss of an estimated $80 million for the county over the past six years, according to data from the report. With at least 1.8 million cars statewide without real plates on their cars, the state is losing about $125 million on registration fees every year.
"This is money that could have gone to improving our mobility, improving our road rage, improving our drainage, improving our community, supporting law enforcement, but that money is lost," said Garcia.
When drivers have fake tags on the toll road, they cannot be tracked down for payment. They can also avoid paying registration fees and title fees with these fake tags.
"A lack of state regulation made it too easy for anyone here to register as a car dealer and to print as many paper tags as they wanted," said Hidalgo.
Other reasons people may have them are if the owner is flagged for not paying child support. Law enforcement said it is also safe to assume that many of the cars without valid plates are not carrying valid insurance. Despite having uninsured motorist insurance, getting into a crash with an uninsured driver could raise monthly costs.
Data shows there was a 306% jump in crimes involving cars with these illegal tags.
Garcia shared a story about his best friend who used to run a used car lot and remembered how he used to handle cardboard tags.
"He guarded them with his life because if he didn't and they got away from him and they were issued improperly, it could have cost him his license. That's not the case today," Garcia said.
The state passed a law that went into effect in February that closes some of these loopholes.
"We now require dealers to set a limit on how many paper tags they can print," said Hidalgo. "There are also some finger print requirements, and locally we are very proud of our "Tag You're It" initiative that launched in January.
Crimes like speeding, theft and burglary are examples of what these cars and their drivers have been involved in.
There was a major jump in numbers from 2016, where there was about 1,700 of these known incidents and in 2021 almost 7,000.
Officers with the Harris County Toll Road Authority have been stopping drivers with paper tags to make sure they are legitimate and have found in many cases, the tags are fake.
"About two weeks ago we actually stopped a Dodge Challenger that actually had a fictitious tag. The person who stole this Challenger actually put a hard plate on there because he knew on the toll road we were pulling people over for fictitious tags," said Precinct 5 Sgt. Alex Gonzalez.
Now that Hidalgo said they have the numbers, they are going to continue to advocate and ask legislation for help.
"We need a solution to a system that is broken. We look forward to seeing what solutions are proposed here in the next legislative session," she said.