2024 Finalist, Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

Ghost Tags: Inside New York City’s Black Market for Temporary License Plates

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, reporter Jesse Coburn noticed a strange trend: cars with out-of-state temporary paper license plates seemed to be all over New York City. Coburn filed public records requests in New Jersey and Georgia – two states that were especially prevalent among the temporary plates in New York – and discovered that fraudsters were taking advantage of lax regulations in these states and issuing tens of thousands of temporary tags from dealerships with no other apparent business activity. Motorists in NYC used the fraudulent tags for anonymity while dodging tolls, driving without insurance, and committing serious and violent crimes. Following the publication of “Ghost Tags,” lawmakers in New Jersey passed a law reforming the state’s temporary tag system, and elected officials in Georgia and New York City also introduced legislation on the issue. 

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