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How to protect yourself from illegal drivers hiding in plain sight

Central Texas drivers hitting the streets illegally are hiding in plain sight and putting others at risk. (CBS Austin)

Central Texas drivers hitting the streets illegally are hiding in plain sight and putting others at risk.

According to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, on any given day there are 1 million vehicles traveling Texas roads with paper license plates. There are also thousands more on city streets with tags that are expired or completely fake.

Late last year Austin homeowner Lauren Renz caught a couple breaking into her truck. Their license plate was beat up and illegible.

"It kind of looked like it was an older dealer plate or something like that where it was faded," she recalls. She wasn't able to make out the plate number. No identification for the thieves allowed them to strike again a few days later. Austin Police officer Nicole Arnold says that's why people use fake plates -- to hide.

"It's an easy way to cover up criminal activity if you don't want someone to know this car belongs to you or this car is registered at this address," Arnold explains.

Dash camera video from August 2016 shows police arresting a driver with fake plates on Burnet Road.

"You can take one look at them. They're not legit," the officer says to the driver. Inside the vehicle police found methamphetamine. They also learned the driver should have never been behind the wheel.

"Your license is suspended like you said. You have no insurance on the vehicle. You don't live here in the city, so I can't give you a citation and let you go," one of the arresting officers explains to the driver.

According to APD records, in September 2017, a woman was driving Airport Boulevard near Levander Loop when she was hit by a driver who left the scene. The driver's license plate ended up being fake making it unlikely that driver will ever be found.

"You don't have the insurance information. You don't have the registered owner. You don't have the address it returns to. You essentially have nothing," says Arnold.

In 2017 APD spotted 200 fictitious license plates on Austin streets. Most often drivers were hiding the fact that they didn't have a license or insurance.

Allstate agent Melissa Flemming says unlicensed and uninsured drivers are a growing problem. "It is absolutely something that I see weekly," says Flemming.

Fake plates or not -- Central Texas is crawling with illegal drivers. Flemming encourages her clients to get uninsured motorist coverage in case one of those drivers hits them. "It is a very frustrating experience, but knowing that it's not going to count against them and they can get their car fixed makes them feel a lot better about it," says Flemming.

After all, getting ahold of a fake paper license plate is easy as can be. Google "Texas temporary tag template" and the first link prompts you to download a plate that looks just like the real deal.

"All you really need is a printer and computer paper," says Arnold.

If you're lucky that person with a fake plate will cruise right on by, but if you're not and they hit you... it's likely you'll be the one paying.

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