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Tampa Bay and Sarasota's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Tampa Bay and Sarasota, FL | WTSP.com

Here's why thieves are stealing your license plates

Thieves typically steal license plates from people with similar cars to their own and there is little police can do to stop them.

TAMPA, Fla. - When is the last time you looked at your license plate?

Not just checked to see if it’s on your vehicle but read the numbers and everything. Is it the correct one?

You may want to go check after you hear this story.

Our reporter Shannon Valladolid recently had her license tag stolen and fraudulently used. That prompted her to investigate why this happens and how you can protect yourself.

Larry McKinnon with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says thieves typically steal license plates from people with similar cars to their own and there is little police can do to stop them.

LINK: Are you breaking the law with your license plate?

LINK: How well do you know your Florida license plates?

“That way when law enforcement is out and we randomly run tags and we see that tag matches to the types of car that it's attached to then it doesn't draw suspicion,” says McKinnon. “The only way to we can check on that is to physically pull it over and check the (vehicle identification) number from what we see on the computer to what is actually on the car.”

There are dangers when you drive around with the wrong tags and stickers.

“Depending on the circumstances that have been reported to that tag, it could show that you were involved in criminal activity and you could have a bunch of cops coming over and pulling you over, at some points, even at gunpoint because we have no way of knowing if that is a legitimate felony vehicle or if that's a scenario where we've had one of these tag swaps,” he says.

People steal your license plate for many reasons.

  • They don’t have insurance
  • They have a suspended license
  • They're driving a stolen car

The scary part, this crime can happen anywhere like parking lots, the mall, even in your driveway.

So, how can you protect yourself?

  • First, the obvious -- know your license plate number and check it routinely.
  • Buy special security screws that are difficult to remove with common screwdrivers.

You can order them online or get them from a local auto shop.

  • Stop sticking your new registration stickers on top of old one. A thief can run a razor blade under the sticker and it will come off perfectly. Instead, scrape off the old one, apply mineral spirits then stick on the new one. Now, if someone tries to steal it, the sticker will come off in pieces.
  • Lastly, do not use license plate frames. A thief can use a prybar under the plate frame and yank it off without damaging the plate.
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