PARIS, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - Scammers take the toll roads for free while others get the bills. When it happened to Montgomery Moore, he called for Consumer Justice.
Moore owns a small car dealership in Paris, Texas. He and his sister-in-law are the only employees, so when Moore started receiving massive toll bills he didn't know who was behind it. Turns out, hundreds of strangers were driving on the toll roads with plates registered to Moore. But all of the temporary tags were expired.
Pretty soon Moore owed $2,200 to the North Texas Tollway Authority.
"It's crazy! At two to three dollars a pop, you got to cross that line a lot to get that kind of bill." The charges came from Dallas, Plano, Grand Prairie - all over DFW. "And that's when this all started sinking in," said Moore.
He remembered a Consumer Justice investigation from November, about the Dallas County Clean Air Task Force and the fight against fake plates. Moore says an aquaintence told him he'd seen Moore's name on a fake paper plate in the report. "And yeah, the same tag number that was on the news story was the same one running tolls."
Deputy David Sneed is part of the task force. "The actual plate was probably good at one time but then they make copies." He says it's as easy as snapping a photo. "We had one guy admit to us... he took a picture of one in a Walmart parking lot on his phone. Took it home, uploaded it on his computer and made at least 100 copies and was selling them for $30 apiece."
A public information request submitted to the NTTA revealed at least 260 different vehicles with Moore's plates on them, all driving on toll roads with all the bills going to Moore.
"I'm getting calls every day from collection agencies, and getting letters that I'm a habitual violator."
Moore said he tried to tell the NTTA, but no one understood. "They were not very knowledgable in the fact that they kept asking me for title histories. And I kept replying, 'I can't give you a title history on a vehicle I've never owned and I don't know what it is.'"
NTTA spokesman Michael Rey says don't blame them.
"We're just an end user of DMV information," he said.
Rey said the camera system is not set up to alert anyone about multiple vehicles using the same plate. The NTTA eventually cleared Moore of the violations and lifted the "habitual offender" title once he sent them a police report showing the plates were considered stolen.
Consumer Justice reached out to the DMV to find out what the agency is doing to combat the problem. A spokesman say a new version of the paper plate with upgraded security features is now being issued. Deputy Sneed says the task force has already seized several copies of the new plate.
It's a felony to reproduce temporary tags in Texas. Displaying the wrong plates is a misdemeanor.
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