MVA adopts more secure tag and title State agency hopes high-tech features will reduce fraud; Hidden fibers, 3-D symbols; Md. expects changes to raise revenues by $1 million a year


To thwart thieves and cheats, the state Motor Vehicle Administration today will begin issuing titles and temporary tags that use the latest in high-tech security, from disappearing ink to almost invisible green fibers.

Titles for newly purchased vehicles will have printing that does not appear when photocopied, engraved borders that are hard to forge, copy-resistant watermarks, erasure-sensitive ink and fibers that can be seen only in black light. Temporary tags will have symbols that appear three-dimensional and plastic film over the expiration date.

The changes are designed to make those documents tougher to alter or counterfeit, said MVA spokeswoman Marilyn J. Corbett.

Some thieves want phony titles and temporary tags to help them pass off stolen vehicles as legitimate and sell them more easily, said Detective Sgt. Steve Wright, supervisor of the Maryland State Police Auto Theft Unit.

State officials hope the new security features will combat the latest tool in the dishonest person's arsenal: copy machines that produce nearly perfect color copies.

"In recent years, with the advent of high-quality color copiers, it has become easier for people to produce fraudulent motor vehicle titles and cardboard temporary tags," said MVA Administrator Ronald L. Freeland.

Said Wright: "The new titles and the temporary tags will go a long way in fighting the counterfeit documents that are being produced."

This year, state police have come across more than 60 fraudulent, out-of-state titles, he said.

Car thieves are not the only ones who try to alter titles and temporary tags, Corbett said.

Some motorists try to change the titles for their own cars. Some attempt to lower the purchase price of the car, which appears on the title, and thus reduce the tax they must pay on the sale. Others lower the odometer reading to dupe an unsuspecting buyer.

The MVA does not know how often such alterations occur.

Another target for cheats has been the 15- and 45-day cardboard tags issued to people who buy a car. Some buyers have illegally changed the expiration dates on the tags by using a marker, Corbett said. In that way, people could delay buying auto insurance or paying excise tax on the car -- both of which are necessary to obtain permanent tags.

To discourage cheating, the new temporary tags have a plastic sheet over the expiration date that makes alterations very difficult, she said.

Wright said the problem with tags is widespread. "Every day, somewhere in Maryland, a trooper is pulling a phony set of tags off a car," he said.

The security features used on both titles and tags are expected to produce an extra $1 million a year in state revenue by preventing fraud, Corbett said. The new blue-and-red titles include:

Copy-resistant American eagle watermarks that appear three-dimensional and can be seen when held up to the light.

A "thermochromic" state seal in the upper right corner that will not appear on photocopies.

Fluorescent yellow and green security fibers that can be seen only in black light.

Background ink that makes erasures obvious.

"Microprinting" that appears to be a straight line to the naked eye but, when magnified, reveals printed words. Microprinting is difficult to copy accurately.

Existing titles and temporary tags will remain valid and will not be replaced, Corbett said.

The MVA decided to explore security features for the titles last year because the printing contract for them was expiring, she said. Despite the plethora of added features, the new titles cost the state 13 cents each, 10 cents less than the old green ones.

The tags, however, cost about 12 cents more, at 50.5 cents each. The extra cost will not be passed on to the consumer, Corbett said.

Dealers will start getting the new tags this week but may continue to use their supplies of old ones until Nov. 15, she said.

The MVA is keeping secret several security features of the new titles to discourage people who are bent on beating the system, she said. "These things tend to become a challenge for some people."

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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