Cease passing the buck. Get pretend tags off of the streets now.

Dallas police say officers soon will start distributing flyers to drivers that explain in English and Spanish how to get legal license plates. With so many fraudulently issued tags on the streets, who can blame Dallas Police Department officials for crossing their fingers and hoping to encourage drivers to do what’s right?

It’s a sign of utter desperation. The fake tag problem has mushroomed beyond the capabilities of local police departments, whose enforcement efforts amount to a game of whack-a-mole. Nor are drivers clueless about how to obtain legitimate tags. Drivers who buy fake tags and auto dealers who traffic in fake tags know precisely what they are doing and why — there’s money to be made and crimes to be committed anonymously.

The problem began in Austin, and that’s where the solution rests, too. The temporary tag system has failed so abysmally that Texas is the epicenter of a $200 million fraud. The state is going to have to change the economics of this crime and aggressively shutter the loopholes that allow those with malicious intent to game the system.

Fake tags allow drivers to cruise around in vehicles that would fail an inspection and to evade unpaid fines, fees, taxes, toll charges and child support. New York authorities blame Texas’ lax dealer application process for the flood of thousands of fraudulent Texas tags in the Big Apple, and note that many of those vehicles have been linked to robberies, carjackings and even murders. In Houston, a New Orleans police officer was shot to death last year and the suspects’ getaway car had fake temporary tags.

A criminal can claim to be a car dealer, purchase a license, access Texas DMV records, print temporary tags and sell them for profit anywhere in the United States. Think about how ridiculous it is that a criminal can print paper tags and sell them anywhere in the country to people who have nefarious motives. And if those hard-to-trace paper tags end up on a stolen vehicle in another state, criminals can move around in plain view there, too.

Last year, the Texas Legislature cracked down on the number of temporary tags available to dealers and authorized the DMV to cut off access to temporary plates if licensed dealers are involved in illegal activities. Still, the law remains a few steps behind the bad guys.

The DMV changed security features on its tags but has no authority to investigate or enforce criminal laws. On its website, the DMV says other steps to determine the free flow of tags could involve fingerprinting license applicants, conducting upfront inspections of dealer locations, and enacting stricter background checks of dealers for criminal histories.

Texans often like to brag that we’re No. 1. However, there’s no state pride, just enormous embarrassment, in leading the nation in fake paper tags.

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