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City Clerk Cracks Down on Fake City Stickers

Submitted on Wed, 12/12/2007 – 19:00.

Story by Octavia Reese

City Clerk Miguel del Valle boasted about his office’s high-tech strategies aimed at curbing counterfeit city stickers. To further these efforts, an ordinance he introduced was passed last week by the Committee on Traffic Control and Safety that provides tougher penalties against sticker scammers.

Del Valle said his office has taken some steps to address counterfeiters. To prevent parking permits being removed from one vehicle and placed on another, he said, they changed adhesive and cut slits into the sticker. Now, if the sticker is removed, it “falls apart.”

With the growing sophistication of printing equipment, del Valle said, it is easier for frauds to print the sticker images. The remedy for this was to use holograms and custom colors, which are more difficult to replicate.

Although the clerk’s office is making some effort to address city sticker fraud, some experts believe they still lag behind other major cities.

In 2006, Hoboken, N.J., addressed the counterfeit problem with state-of-the-art media, known as radio frequency identification (RFID). It has been on the market for about four years. The technology is very challenging to duplicate, according to Glenn Bischoff, editor of MRT, a technology magazine.

RFID uses a miniature antenna that is “thin like a filament,” Bischoff said, which is embedded in the sticker. It sends programmed information by radio signal to the receiver, called a “reader.”

Wal-Mart first introduced RFID as a faster way to take inventory, Bischoff said, and information can be retrieved just by walking by a store’s shelves.

The RFID in city sticker form holds the driver’s registration and VIN number, Bischoff said, and if a sticker doesn’t transmit information that means it is a fraud.

The government is using this technology for new passports too.

“They know when you’re in the U.S. and when you’re out,” Bischoff said. “It’s kind of controversial.”

And RFID is advancing. It is now available in “dielectric ink” where the filament is eliminated and the ink acts as the antenna, holding personal information. Bischoff said this is how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is tracking beef and cattle.

Counterfeit sticker users can expect to pay hefty fees if they are caught, based on the new ordinance. Cars with fraudulent stickers may be towed, at a cost of $150 plus impound fees. The car owners will also be required to buy an authentic city sticker at a cost of $75. In addition, they may be required to pay a $500 ticket for having the illegal sticker.

Committee chairman Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th) said he hopes the new efforts will uncover scam sticker vendors. The stronger attention to fraudulent stickers could also lead investigators to master counterfeiters.

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