Harris County Precinct 1 Chief J.C. Mosier says the scope of the operation is amazing.
"Most of the folks in the title business are honest, hardworking folks. But there are a lot of people in this fly-by-night title business now that are doing some things you cannot believe. For instance, you could wake up one day and find out four or five people have been added to your insurance. We've seen that."
The sketchy operations use a lot of different methods to dupe their customers. Sometimes they'll sell a stolen car with a fake title. Officials say it also appears they have a database of real drivers license numbers. They use those numbers to transfer fraudulent titles.
Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt says employees in his office noticed a large number of suspicious documents and that led to the investigation.
"When one group discovers how to do something, they replicate it. And they go from tax office to tax office trying the same type of M.O. And they're clearly spreading out to the surrounding seven counties, we've seen that already, because we're starting to crack down on this type of organized behavior in Harris County."
So far 172 cases have been examined. Harris County processes about 4 million title transfers every year. But those 172 cases are enough to have the FBI and Anti-Terrorism units involved. Craig Feazel is with the Harris County District Attorney's office.
"Obviously there's many, many crimes that can take place from these type of transactions. You have forgeries, you have tampering with governmental documents, you have insurance fraud. And the thing about these cases that people need to understand is that if you're doing this you will get caught. There's a paper trail and it always will come back to you."
The Tax Assessor-Collector's office estimates the 172 Harris County cases represent more than half a million dollars in taxable value with a loss to the the state of nearly $25,000 in sales tax.
Laurie Johnson, KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.