Check your license plate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 5, 2014

It’s happened more than once to a law-abiding citizen in Salisbury. You’re driving along, minding your own business when suddenly blue lights converge upon you. There’s something wrong with the tags on your car. You show your registration but it does no good. Before you know it, you’re handcuffed and carted off to the magistrate’s office, where you can be charged with possession of stolen goods.
That happened to a 50-year-old Salisbury woman recently. She and police eventually realized that someone had switched out her license plate, stealing hers and leaving one in its place that had been reported stolen. The charges were dropped, but you don’t soon forget an experience like that. So she’s turning her attention toward warning other people to check their tags.
Do you know your license plate number? Many of us don’t. After her release by very apologetic police, the woman realized that her tag had been stolen over a year ago — long ago enough that she had put a renewal sticker on it. The letters and numbers on the sticker should match the letters and numbers on the plate. If they don’t, chances are that someone has stolen your license plate.
Stealing vehicles is a big enterprise in the United States. The FBI says there were an estimated 721,053 thefts of motor vehicles in the country in 2012 — that’s 229.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.
And the cost was high. “More than $4.3 billion was lost nationwide to motor vehicle thefts in 2012,” an FBI report says. The average dollar loss per stolen vehicle was $6,019.” To combat vehicle theft, some law enforcement agencies use license plate readers that quickly capture license plate images and search a database to see if they’re stolen or connected to a crime in some other way. Unfortunately, license plate numbers can lie — that is, if someone has switched plates.
Thieves occasionally just steal a tag without leaving one behind, but car owners notice that right away. By putting another stolen plate in its place, the thief buys time. It could be some time before you — or police — notice the different tag. By then they and the stolen vehicle will be long gone.
So check your tags; make sure your license plate number matches the number on your renewal sticker. If it doesn’t, let law enforcement know — before you’re scooped up in a mistaken arrest.