State cracking down on big business of fake tags

Georgia is cracking down on a major cash drain often connected to other crimes.

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. -- A Gwinnett County car dealer has been busted for issuing hundreds of fake temporary permits.

The Georgia Department of Revenue said it recently issued a search warrant at Zoom Time Motors in Lawrenceville, Georgia after discovering the dealer only had four title sales in the last year but had issued more than 500 permits. And the Georgia Department of Revenue is worried there could be more victims out there.

It's the latest bust related to a crackdown on the illegal practice. But the 11Alive investigators have already been taking an in-depth look at just how these crimes are committed.

The Investigators discovered Craigslist is another hotspot for people looking for temporary tags. Our cameras were rolling as an undercover police officer with the Department of Revenue made the buy. There were undercover officers parked all around the lot.  A marked police vehicle pulled up as soon as the transaction was made. 

Helen Archie found herself on camera and facing charges after the 11Alive investigators started asking questions about certain Craigslist ads.

The sellers aren't hiding and they boldly claim to be certified and legitimate.  But Waites, who is with the Office of Special Investigations, said there's no way to legally buy a temporary tag online.

“These are not related to our system and they come back to nothing which is scary knowing people could be driving around with a tag that has no information behind it,” he said. 

But Waites said the seller isn't the only one breaking the law. People who use the tags are always trying to get out of something.

“With the new TAVT tax, you pay more upfront initially when you buy the car so it encourages people to do these things to avoid - to evade - that tax,” he said. 

Some people simply can't afford car insurance or pass emissions tests. They use the tags to get out of paying tolls or parking tickets. The information is even used to sell stolen cars or commit new crimes.

If the tag is reported to police they won't know where to start looking because it will be a forged name or a fake name,” Waites said.

Some of the forgeries are better than others.  But Waites said they're all illegal. 

And the people selling the tags on Craigslist aren't interested in the reason 'why' you want to buy.

11Alive called some of the numbers in those ads. They didn’t want to know what we were doing with the car. They just wanted a VIN number.

We asked if they could call us back to confirm the service was legitimate.

Only one called back.  He insisted his service was legal - the best in the business - and that he prints nearly three dozen temp tags a day at roughly $120 a pop.

Archie also insists she is doing nothing wrong.  She told police she had no idea the tag was a fake and that a friend who works as an out-of-state dealer simply asked her to drop it off to a customer. 

"I'm scared to death she said," she said. "I've never been in any trouble before."

Police believe her story - at least part of it.  There is someone else involved.  The rest, they said, is for the courts to decide.

“He had an accomplice bring the tag to us and collect the money, Waites said. “He didn't handle delivering it himself. 

But Archie will be facing some serious charges. 

Archie was arrested for first-degree forgery, a felony, but no formal charges have been filed. 

© 2017 WXIA-TV


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