HOUSTON – A black market industry that brought in roughly $200 million last year is sparking violence and unsolved crimes, police say.
Some members of law enforcement call fake paper license plates "a license for crime" because countless criminals have been seen using them to keep their identities hidden.
Paul Castro is the father of a murder victim. He recounted to Fox News the night that changed his family’s life forever.
"It was July 6, 2021, my two sons and I had just finished going to an Astros game in Downtown Houston. And on the way back, there was this guy who was driving quite erratically," Castro said.
That erratic driver chased them through traffic.
"I was driving probably 90 miles an hour through the streets, trying to get out of this man's line of sight. He just continued chasing us, took a weapon out and fired two shots from a .44 caliber," Castro added.
One of those shots hit his 17-year-old son, David, killing him.
After police arrived, Castro gave a detailed description of the vehicle, but one thing held up the investigation. "I remember looking over, and I saw he had paper plates on."
Those paper license plates were fake, making the perfect "getaway car." Police later found the shooter, thanks to social media and surveillance video. But thousands of crimes linked to fake paper license plates across the country have gone unsolved.
In New York, police arrested 2,163 people for crimes related to fake paper license plates in the first seven months of 2021. Most of the fake plates came out of Texas. And, last month in Dallas, police say they seized 42 fake paper plates in a one-day operation.
Julio Gonzales is a Dallas police lieutenant who helped organize the operation. He told Fox News he was shocked at how crimes traced back to the plates.
"They’re used in the commission of robberies, burglaries, and of course with stolen vehicles," he said.
Law enforcement officials said most of these tags have been sold by people with car dealer licenses, which gives them access to the state’s department of motor vehicles e-tag system.
Andy Kahan, a Crime Stoppers victims' advocate, said he's seen the use of fake paper license plates to commit crimes increase drastically over the last two years.
"As you can see, this has kind of become an industry. Not just an industry for the criminals. But, for people who realize they can make money selling paper tags," Kahan told Fox News.
A new Texas law lets the state’s DMV block access to dealers who commit fraud. So far, six dealerships found selling fake paper license plates have since been shut down.