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Fraudulent Representations of
New Mexico License Plates & Road Signs

With surprising frequency New Mexico license plates are found to be offered for sale under false pretenses as to what the plates actually are. In some cases this is simply a result of ignorance on the part of the seller as to what he or she is selling.  But in other instances the representations are deliberate fraud on the part of the seller, committed with the intention of extracting the highest possible price from the buyer for something that has far less value—or in some cases no value at all.  And it has not been unusual that in both circumstances the seller, even when advised of the misrepresentation, persists in huckstering the plate or plates under the false description. 

Described and illustrated here are some the best known examples. If you know of additional examples, and especially if you have been a victim of a scam of this nature, please contact us with details and photographs so that we might include them on this web page.

And what should you do if you find you’ve been scammed? Even if the incident occurred long ago, contact the seller and demand a refund. Second, report the seller to the sale or auction site where the scam was perpetrated. If the scammer is a member of the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association (ALPCA), report the incident to the Complaints Chairman.

Medal of Honor Sample Plates
Fraudulently Represented as the Real Thing
Medal of Honor SAMPLE plates
New Mexico’s current Medal of Honor plates have a serial number consisting of the medal recipient’s initials followed by the zia and the numeral “1.” (An earlier version, dating from at least as far back as 1978, differed in color, and rather than the zia symbol used a graphic of a portion of the medal as a separator.) Fewer than a half dozen such plates have been issued in the quarter century they have been available.

On the other hand a significant number of Medal of Honor sample plates were manufactured and used primarily for display purposes in Motor Vehicle Division field offices. The serial number on all of these samples is either CMH-1, where CMH stands for Congressional Medal of Honor, or MOH*1, where MOH stands for Medal of Honor, and “*” is the zia symbol. (There has never been a Medal of Honor recipient in any state with the initials CMH or MOH.) It appears that something on the order of several hundred of these samples were made and distributed.

These samples are illustrated in the DMV's 1984 license plate pamphlet TAS-10263 which you can see here and on the MVD’s June 1993 MVD-10264 license plate description card, a full color copy of which you can see here.

Over the years a number of these samples have been put up for sale via on-line auction sites and other venues at prices ranging from $500 to $1,500 or more, with some of the sellers coyly professing, “I don’t know who the Medal of Honor recipient was to whom this plate was issued.” Well of course they don’t, because there was no medal recipient who was issued a sample plate, and there was no medal recipient whose initials are "CMH" or “MOH.”  Perhaps bilking someone out of $1,500 for a plate worth no more than $10 is too much to resist.
Parking Permits Falsely Claimed to Be Handicap
Motorcycle License Plates
  Handicap Parking Permit   Handicap Motorcycle Plate  
Between the 1970s and the early 2000s persons eligible to use handicap parking spaces had the option to obtain either a handicap license plate or a small metal handicap parking permit (placard) like the one shown immediately above, at left. The official instructions said to attach the permit to the vehicle’s sun visor, but in fact users almost always simply placed them on top of the dashboard.

The fact that these permits were stamped out on motorcycle license plate blanks, and used the same dies as on motorcycle plates, proved to be an open invitation for people to later put the permits up for sale while conniving to misrepresent them as “handicap motorcycle license plates.” They are, of course, nothing of the kind, nor are they motor vehicle license plates of any kind.

The MVD went out of its way more than thirty-five years ago to debunk this notion, stating in its New Mexico License plates – 1984 Edition publication that “THIS IS NOT A HANDICAP MOTORCYCLE PLATE” (caps are in the original). Notwithstanding the MVD’s efforts, hardly a day goes by without one or more of these permits being hawked through internet auction sites as handicap motorcycle plates at prices of up to $50 or more.

An actual handicap motorcycle plate is illustrated to the right of the parking permit illustrated above.

Different but similar versions of these permits were issued over the years, several of which can be seen here:

: https://nmplates.com/HandicapParkingPermits.htm

To see the 1984 MVD publication mentioned above, go to:

There is much we don’t know about this plate, including who made it, why, or when. But we do know that it’s not a 1912 plate as it purports to be. Rather, it’s a 1920s era porcelain plate on which someone hand painted the 1912 date. There are other things about it that are wrong as well. New Mexico’s 1912 plates were embossed steel, not porcelain on flat steel, and they were neither this size nor this shape. The highest plate number issued in 1912 was 904, making the 14517 number on the plate too high by more than 13,000. This plate is mounted on a plaque which claims that it was found at the Fort “Crag” dump. There is no such place as Fort “Crag,” but from 1854 to 1885 there was a Fort Craig about 35 miles south of Socorro, having been abandoned some 27 years before 1912. (We also don’t know if the 14517 accurately represents the porcelain’s original number, but if it does that plate was registered in 1920 to Alberto Richards of Columbus, NM for a Maxwell touring car.) Photo courtesy of Patrick Phillips.
1915 replica or “COPY” license plate
Here is an example of a plate clearly inscribed on the back as a “COPY,” and as such is not so egregious as the counterfeits and fakes shown further down this page which were explicitly intended to deceive collectors and relieve them of their money. The origin of this plate is a mystery, and neither do we know why it was even made. It bears a date of March 9, 1975, presumably the date it was made. A test with a magnet shows that it has a steel core, but both the front and back seem to largely consist of a non-metallic substance that appears to be either plaster or Bondo. The white-on-red colors are correct, though the raised border should not be painted white, as the border on 1915 plates was the same red as the rest of the background. If there was a reason for the specific choice of the number “8” serial number, we’ll never know, but the real 1915 plate of that serial number was issued on January 1, 1915 to Oscar E. Cobb of Carthage for a 1912 Ford touring car with a 22 H.P. rating. Carthage, established in the 1860s southeast of Socorro and about 10 miles east of San Antonio, was the site of the first coal mining activity in New Mexico. The mine eventually proved to be unprofitable, and it, the coking ovens, the houses and the businesses had all been abandoned by about 1950. Little to nothing remains there today.  Photos courtesy of David McMath.
1916 Plates Falsely Claimed to be “Restored in Correct Colors”
  Original Paint   Repainted Wrong Color on Rim  
1916 plates are commonly found to have been incorrectly repainted, by having the raised border painted in the same silver as the embossed numerals. On original 1916 plates this raised rim is part of the same dark blue background of the plate, with no additional paint applied. Once repainted incorrectly in this fashion, it is not uncommon to find them for sale, falsely claimed to be “restored in correct colors.”
1918 Thick Plates Falsely Claimed to Be
“Restored in the Correct Colors”
  Original Paint   Repainted Wrong Colors  
1918 plates were made in two distinct varieties, the first of which, having serial numbers from 1 to about 13000, were stamped on thin sheet metal and with the embossed characters having little relief. These are referred to as the “thin” variety, and are painted light blue on grey.

“Thick” variety 1918 plates were made of much heavier steel and have serial numbers that begin somewhere in the 13000 to 14000 range, continue up to about 19000, and have original colors of dark navy blue―almost black―numerals and letters on an olive background. Something on the order of a thousand or more of the thick variety tags, mostly in the 18000 serial number range, were left over at the end of the 1918 registration year and were apparently discarded, then found years later in badly rusted condition.

Many dozens, and probably hundreds of these rusty “thick” plates―not just those in 18000 series―are in circulation today, a great many of which have been “restored.” In these restorations, grossly incorrect colors were used, to wit, baby blue on light grey, rather than the correct colors of dark navy on olive. Moreover, in the restorations the raised rim was painted in the same baby blue as was used on the raised characters, even though the rim is not painted on originals of either the thin or the thick varieties.

Time and again these incorrectly painted 1918 plates come up for sale with the patently false claim that they are “restored in the correct colors.”
Porcelain Plates Falsely Claimed to Be “All Original”
The word “original” as applied to license plates generally refers to the plate having its original paint, as opposed to it having been later repainted or touched up by someone else. Porcelain plates are not painted to start with (other than the annual date tab), and any attempt to hide chipped areas with paint is immediately obvious.

When a seller claims that a porcelain plate is “all original” he or she is usually representing that the plate (1) does not have any chips covered over with paint, (2) if the plate originally had a date tab, it is still present, (3) if it does have a date tab, the tab is the same one originally issued with the plate, and (4) the tab has not been repainted.

With that in mind, what is wrong with the 1922 plate #39969 illustrated above? The answer is that the porcelain plate itself, #39969, was not even issued until 1923, and therefore could not possibly have had a 1922 tab on it when it was in use. In other words, it is by no means “all original.”

Date tabs on New Mexico porcelains are frequently found to have been moved from one plate to another, often because a plate is missing its tab, and a loose tab found separately is attached to the plate to make it “complete.” Obviously, that does not make it original, though.

So how does one determine if a tab is original to the plate it’s attached to? The easiest way would be if the registration records existed for all of the porcelain years, 1920–1923. In that case we could look up the plate and see if the records show that serial number on the tab confirms that the tab was originally issued to the plate in question. Unfortunately, the records have survived for only part of that period.

Nonetheless, we do know with a high degree of accuracy the serial number ranges of the porcelain plates for each year, as well as the serial number ranges of the date tabs. These are given in the table below.

For any one of the years 1921, 1922 or 1923, a newly issued plate received a tab with a matching serial number. A renewed plate from an earlier year received a tab with a serial number below that of the number of the first new plate issued in the current year. That information, combined with the known numbers of newly issued plates and renewals enables us to prepare the following table.

  Year   Plate
Serial #'s
Serial #'s
  1921   1-22000   1-16000   Only 16000 renewed, plate and tab#'s do not match  
  1921   22001-29100   22001-29100   New plate.  Tab serial matches plate serial.  
                                      1922   1-29100   1-17200   Only 17200 renewed, plate and tab #’s do not match.  
1922 29101-37411 29101-37411 New plate. Tab serial matches plate serial.
  1923   1-37411   1-18000   Only 18000 renewed, plate and tab #’s do not match  
  1923   37412-47500   37412-47500   New plate. Tab serial matches plate serial.  
      47501-49000       No tabs attached.  

The tab serial numbers for all newly-issued plates are known exactly, because they match the plate numbers. The 1923 renewal tab serials 1–18000 are known exactly because the registration records survive for these. For 1921 and 1922, we know only the range that a renewal tab has to fall in, i.e., 1–16000 and 1–17200, respectively. Tabs in the three serial number “gaps,” i.e., 16001–22000 for 1921, 17201–29100 for 1922 and 18001–37411 for 1923, would not have been issued.

 In brief, for all years 1921–1923, if the tab serial number matches the plate serial number, you know that the tab is original to the plate. For all years 1921-1923, if the tab serial number for the respective year falls within the range shown for a renewed plate in the table above, it might be original to the plate. Only by having the registration records would we know for sure. The necessary registration records do survive for 1923, and any 1923 tab with a serial number in the range 1–18000 can be verified as to exactly what plate it was assigned to.
Counterfeit World War II Military Base Plate
Counterfeit Genuine
In this case it appears that someone went to the trouble to make the surface of the counterfeit tag with baked porcelain, but the inscription is obviously hand-lettered, and not very well done at that. The genuine plate is painted, with the inscription silk screened onto it.
Counterfeit Porcelain Plates
New Mexico’s porcelain plates are difficult and expensive to counterfeit in such a way that the result is truly realistic, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. The ones shown above were made in Asia and sold on the internet in about the 2015 time frame and when held in one’s hands are seen to be obvious fakes. They were made of thin gauge steel with a coating that was not porcelain, but something resembling polyurethane. Nonetheless, they could fool an inexperienced collector who has never seen a genuine porcelain up close. The tabs shown on the examples above are counterfeit as well. Photos courtesy Greg Gibson. 
Counterfeit Tabs for Porcelains
At some point beginning in the late 1970s or early 1980s a troubling number of counterfeit tabs were fabricated using a plastic or resin material. More recently, counterfeit tabs have been manufactured in Asia and sold on the internet, sometimes along with counterfeit porcelain plates such as those shown in the section immediately above. All of this, in both instances, was done under the guise of making “reproductions” to satisfy the demand for tabs for display on porcelain plates whose original tabs were missing.

This was an unfortunate occurrence, as there are more than enough genuine tabs in circulation to put on all of the New Mexico porcelains worthy of display. But now one must be wary of every tab seen, and give it close inspection. Fortunately, the fakes are not particularly well done. All of the ones that we’ve seen have been cast rather than stamped, and their features are not as clear and sharp as on genuine tabs. They also make a distinctly different sound when dropped on a hard surface. Generally, a side-by-side comparison with known genuine tabs will quickly identify the fakes. Photos courtesy Greg Gibson.
Early Commercial and Other Non-Passenger
Plates Falsely Claimed to Be
“Restored in the Correct Colors”
Early commercial and other non-passenger plates are in general not extremely scarce, but examples of these with original paint are few and far between, and in some cases are in fact exceedingly rare in this condition. This circumstance has led both amateur and professional restorers who have never seen original plate specimens to repaint such plates in passenger plate colors and declare that they are “restored in the correct colors.” Below are examples of a number of such plates from the 1920s, illustrating both those with original paint, and those repainted in the wrong colors.
  Original Paint   Painted Wrong Colors  
1923 Commercial Car The wrong color example shown here has been repainted white on green, but this type is also very frequently found repainted white on black, which are also the wrong colors.
  Correct Colors   Repainted Wrong Colors  
1923 Commercial Truck
  Original Paint Front   Original Paint Back  
1924 Commercial Car
Though not illustrated here, 1924 Commercial Car plates are usually found
to be incorrectly repainted in white-on-black colors.
  Original Paint   Repainted Wrong Colors  
1925 Highway Department
  Original Paint   Repainted Wrong Colors  
1926 Commercial Truck
  Original Paint   Repainted Wrong Colors  
1928 Commercial Truck

Wheaties and Post Cereal Tags Incorrectly
Claimed to Be
Vintage Bicycle Tags
  Wheaties Cereal
Toy Plate
  Post Cereal
Toy Plate
  Actual N.M.
Bicycle Tag
From the 1950s through the 1980s Wheaties (General Mills), Post Cereal, Bakers Chocolate, and other companies distributed millions of toy license plates as premiums included free with the purchased item, or sold by mail order in exchange for a box top or coupon plus a token fee. Now, decades later, these toys are often pitched online as “vintage bicycle license plates,” and at prices far higher than they are worth. This may be out of ignorance on the part of the seller, but at any given time dozens of these are listed for sale under correct descriptions, so one has to wonder why a seller proffering them as “vintage bicycle license plates” could not have seen identical ones listed correctly.

A representative assortment of the toy plates is shown here:


And a similar assortment of genuine bicycle tags can be seen here:

Boat Plates Erroneously Represented as
Vintage Motorcycle Plates
  Boat License Plate   Motorcycle License Plate  
During the latter half of the 1950s license plates were required on all boats used at Conchas Dam Lake, about 35 miles northwest of Tucumcari. Though the licensing agency was the New Mexico State Park Commission, the plates themselves were made on the same blanks, with the same dies, and with only a couple of exceptions in the same colors at motorcycle plates for the corresponding years.

The distinguishing characteristic which uniquely identifies the two types is that Motorcycle plates for these years had the letter “M” for a prefix, whereas the boat plates had a numeral for a prefix, that numeral designating the maximum number of passengers authorized to be carried by the boat. Because of their otherwise identical appearance, the uninformed might be forgiven for mistaking the boat plates for motorcycle plates, and putting them up for sale as such.

Examples of 1958 boat and motorcycle plates are shown above, and examples of other years may be seen at:



License Plates Falsely Claimed to Be
“Professionally Restored”
A license plate that has been professionally restored will be so flawless that it requires close inspection to ascertain that it is a restoration and not a plate with original paint. Unfortunately, hucksters abound who will paint right over rust, scale, blisters, pits, dents, bends, and other defects which typify a junker plate, and declare it to be “professionally restored.” They will then demand a price higher than that warranted by a similar plate with no defects and with nice original paint.

 Illustrated above is such a plate, along with an enlargement of a portion of it showing the abhorrent condition of the plate underlying the paint. At best, this plate cannot be considered to be “restored” at all, and the most charitable description would classify it a very poor amateur repaint.
New Mexico License Plates Falsely Described as
Probably one of the most common of the baseless descriptions used in describing New Mexico license plates is the word “rare.” While there are some New Mexico plates that are truly rare, the ones given this description on internet auction sites are usually common plates with production figures in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. Perhaps some people believe that anything from New Mexico “has to be” rare, or they think that anything over 10 years old is “rare.”

Generally speaking, there is nothing to be gained by informing the seller that a plate so described is not in fact rare, but quite common. The response you’ll get is likely to be something like, “Well, I never saw one before, so it has to be rare.”

The best you can do is ignore it and hope that there are no buyers out there who get snookered because they are as unknowledgeable as the seller.
Vanity Plates Falsely Claimed to be
Low-Number Passenger Plates
Here’s another case where it’s hard to know whether a seller is trying to trick the buyer, or is operating out of ignorance himself, but time and again one sees modern vanity plates (such as the 1992 plate in the photograph above) for sale on various internet sites, described as “low number passenger plates,” and with correspondingly high prices. Since 1972 for cars, and 1975 for trucks, all regular issue New Mexico plates have contained both letters and numerals. Consequently, since those years, none of these plates have had serial numbers which could be called “low numbers” in the proper sense of the term.
1931 Commercial Plates Falsely Claimed to be
Low-Number Passenger Plates
In the early 1930s New Mexico’s Motor Vehicle Department underestimated the growing effects of the Great Depression, and as a consequence overestimated the number of license plates that would be needed for each coming year. The end result was too many plates being ordered, and large numbers of unissued plates of all kinds left over at the end of those years, especially for 1931, 1932 and 1933. Among the surplus 1931 plates were hundreds of 3-digit Commercial plates of the type illustrated above.

That they are Commercial plates is made obvious by the two pre-punched holes on the right side. These are the rivet holes for mounting of the weight/capacity tab that each commercial vehicle received, photos of which can be seen here: https://nmplates.com/CPrefix.htm.  One even sees examples where the rivet holes have been filled in and painted over in an attempt to hide the fact that the plate being offered is a Commercial plate rather than a Passenger plate.

The majority of the excess 1931 Commercial plates in circulation today came from the same source, to wit, a building in the Santa Fe area that had used them as shingles. Examination of these plates will show that many of them have one or more small extra holes in them from being nailed to the building. In the 1980s we acquired about two hundred of these plates (which included some other types in addition to the Commercial tags) and made them available to other collectors. In the years since they have passed through multiple hands, with a substantial number of the ending up in the possession of persons who now place them on internet auction sites, falsely claiming that they are “low number passenger plates,” while demanding exorbitant prices for them.
New Mexico License Plates Falsely Described as
Having County Numbers for Counties That Don’t
Here we have an example that is almost always a lack of knowledge on the part of the seller rather than deliberate fraud. The seller might describe the plate illustrated above as “1931 New Mexico plate from county 68.” New Mexico did not start numbering counties until 1947, but beginning in the latter part of the 1920s hyphens were used on 4-digit and higher serial numbers for the sole purpose of improving readability. Prior to 1947 there was nothing in the plate serial number that designated the county where the vehicle was registered.

And this is another case where it may not pay to dispute the seller, as doing so could lead to a conversation along these lines:

                           “I have a 1931 New Mexico plate from county 68 that I want to sell.”

“Thanks but I don’t need a 1931 plate. But, by the way, New Mexico wasn’t using county numbers in 1931. That’s just part of the serial number.” “

Yes it is the county number. It says right here “county 68.”

“It has the word ‘county’ on it?”

“No, but it says ‘68.’ That’s the county number.”

“Well, New Mexico never had more than 33 counties, so what county is 68?”

(Angrily) “I don’t know what county it is but I’ve lived here all my life and I know these old plates have county numbers! You’re just trying to cheat me out of this plate.”

“No I’m not. I already told you that I don’t need a 1931 plate.”

“Well, you’re sure not going to get this one!”

“Thank you.”
Counterfeit Specialty Plates
New Mexico plates recognizing special causes and professions have also been the target of counterfeiters who sell their knock-offs on the internet. The Firefighter plate seen above is a commonly seen example which is manufactured in Europe. Though an almost-convincing facsimile when viewed at a distance, these are made of very thin aluminum. The validation sticker is not only obviously wrong, but is not a sticker at all, the image of it having been silk screened directly onto the plate. It is likely that collectors will have to remain alert, and be wary of more and more fake specialty plates in the future. Photo courtesy Greg Gibson.
Counterfeit Validation Stickers
Plates are very frequently observed being sold on the internet with counterfeit validation stickers, or with stickers which have been peeled off of other plates and
clearly don’t belong on the plates being sold. Realistic counterfeits are rare, but it’s common to see stickers from states other than New Mexico which do not bear
the name of any state, in other words, stickers which appear to be generic in nature. New Mexico does not use any stickers of this type, and since 2001 (with a
few exceptions for 2001 and 2002) all of her stickers are black on white, and bear both the state name and a serial number which matches that of the plate itself.
This is true not just for Passenger car plates, but for all types of non-Passenger plates, including even Vanities.

If you see one of these black-on-white stickers whose serial number does not match the plate number, you will know that the sticker is either counterfeit, or has
been transferred from a different plate. The only exception are permanent plates whose stickers bear the word PERMANENT or the abbreviation PRM.

For an overview of most types of stickers which have been issued since they first came into use in 1960, see:

Hoax New Mexico License Plates
The advent of photo editing software has enabled nefarious actors to easily perpetrate photo hoaxes on the license plate collector community. The photograph above is a replica of a notorious hoax created a decade or more ago, purporting to show a “1911" New Mexico license plate. Fortunately, the characteristics of the hoax photo were so ludicrous that it fooled few if any of those who saw it. The give-aways are these:
  First, New Mexico did not begin issuing license plates until 1912, so there were no 1911 plates issued by the state (or Territory), so such a plate never could have existed in the first place.  
  Second, the number on the plate is too high. At a time when motor vehicle registrations were approximately doubling each year, New Mexico had only 904 registered vehicles in 1912, so even if there had been plates issued in 1911 the highest plate number would have been no greater than about 450.  
  Third, the hoax photo was of a well known 1913 plate, and made use of a well known existing photo of that plate. That existing photo had clearly been altered with photo editing software, and clumsily so, as the “19” and “11” show no similarity to the dies of the plate serial number and show no relief. The additional characters are just digital images which had been pasted onto the original photo.  
Editor’s note: As stated above, the photo shown here is not the original hoax photograph, but a replica of it. We were not immediately able to locate a copy of the hoax photo because it had been purged from so many of the computer systems where it had appeared some years ago. If you happen to have a copy of the original hoax photo, please contact us, as we would like to use it here in place of the replica.
Fake Handicap Parking Hang Tag
  Fake Hang Tag   Genuine NM Hang Tag  
Numerous actors sell fake Handicap Parking hang tags (or placards) on the internet. These are offered in a variety of sizes and styles, all attempting to imitate the genuine hang tags issued by state agencies. Prices for the fakes range from $40 to more than $100 each. While some sellers try to create an aura of plausible deniability of responsibility for the fakes by including wording such as “not state issued,” “for promotional purposes only” and other similar wording, the fakes are illegal for use in all states. Genuine hang tags require completion of a form signed by a physician certifying a specific disability that would qualify the individual to park in designated handicap spaces. The form is submitted to the state’s motor vehicle division for final approval and issuance of the tag. Many, if not most, states now also include a photograph of the bearer on the hang tag, which of course the fakes do not have. Fines for parking in a handicap space without a genuine tag vary by state, but often run $250 and up for each offense. Similarly, fines for displaying a fake hang tag run $500 and up for each offense, thereby levying a double whammy on anyone foolish enough not only to buy one, but to use it to park illegally.
Fake New Mexico Road Signs


A huge number of fake U.S. Highway signs for New Mexico are being knowingly sold on internet auction sites as authentic “Vintage” (or “Vtg”) porcelain highway signs similar to the one shown above, with a wide variety of different highway numbers, and for a great many different states. The fact that they are fake is immediately told by the fact the New Mexico has never, ever used flat porcelain highway number signs. All of the older ones were made of painted heavy gauge embossed steel, some of them having a background covered with reflective sheeting. Later ones are made of plywood, with the design on the surface made with reflective sheeting. It appears that the fake signs are being manufactured in Asia and shipped to the U.S. where sellers chip the porcelain around the bolt holes, then apply a little “rust” color to the chipped areas in a futile attempt to make the signs look old, or “vintage.” Another give-away is that the upper holes are at the outer edges, which would have required a T-shaped post to mount them. The authentic embossed signs have only two mounting holes, one just below the top center of the shield, and one just above the bottom center of the shield, enabling them to be mounted on a standard post.



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