If You Notice This on Your Car, Report It Immediately, Police Say in New Warning

You should be checking for this every time you go for a drive.

Owning or leasing a car is not only a financial investment—it also comes with a whole new set of responsibilities. Keeping up with maintenance, making sure your gas tank is full, and staying safe on the road are all key components to keep in mind. Adding to the list, your vehicle may become a target for thieves and other scammers looking to make a quick buck. Police are now warning about an uptick in one crime trend, where criminals are targeting a crucial car component. Read on to find out what you should check for on your vehicle every time you go for a drive.

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You car has several attractive targets for thieves.

broken car window
Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock

Nationwide, police have been issuing warnings about different car-related crimes that could affect you—and not all thieves are trying to steal your car itself. In August, the Phillipsburg Police Department in New Jersey warned about an uptick in airbag thefts. According to a Facebook post from the department, thieves break into vehicles—specifically newer-model Hondas—cut open steering wheels, and remove the airbags, which they then resell online or on the black market.

Scammers have also been placing fraudulent parking tickets on the windshields of unsuspecting drivers. The fake tickets are pretty convincing, according to a warning from police in Fairfax, Virginia, even including an official city seal and complex legal jargon.

Now, criminals are after something affixed to your car's exterior—and you'll want to take note if yours is missing.

Thieves are stealing this seemingly paltry part.

view of back of car
Natalja Petuhova / Shutterstock

On Sept. 14, police in Bradenton, Florida, issued a warning about an uptick in license plate theft. According to reporting by ABC-affiliate WWSB, two male suspects were caught on camera stealing a license plate from a Tesla vehicle outside a local restaurant. The thieves used a power tool to remove the screws, not realizing that their images were captured on the Tesla's eight exterior cameras, WWSB reported. The suspects have yet to be apprehended.

The issue is not limited to Florida, as three license plate thefts were also recently reported to police at Purdue University in Indiana this month, according to The Purdue Exponent, citing the police department's crime logs. All three were taken from vehicles parked in a garage on campus.

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These thefts are more common than you think.

removing license plate
KONSTANTIN_SHISHKIN / Shutterstock

You might be wondering why someone would want to steal your license plate, and there are actually a few different reasons. According to a 2019 article from the Sonoma State Star, thieves will pilfer your plates if they need to disguise a stolen vehicle or use them on a vehicle that is not insured or lacks current registration. By using your license plates, it could also help the thief evade outstanding parking tickets.

"Stealing license plates, it happens more than people actually know," Todd Freed, detective for the Bradenton Police Department, told WWSB. "If they're out there committing crimes and somebody does get a license plate number off of the vehicle, it may not come back to that vehicle and it may not come back [to] the individuals in the car. So, it throws law enforcement a curve ball."

At universities like Purdue, police said they receive more reports of theft when the school year is just kicking off, and license plate theft is considered a "crime of opportunity."

"It's not a victimless crime," Song Kang, captain of the Purdue University Police Department told The Purdue Exponent. "It causes a lot of headaches for a lot of people."

Report the issue as soon as you notice your plates are missing.

woman looking concerned at phone
HBRH / Shutterstock

Taking a few seconds to give your car a once-over is definitely worth it, as driving without a license plate—or plates, as some states require more than one—is illegal. Bradenton police asked drivers to report license plate theft immediately in order to help law enforcement get ahead of the issue.

"There's cameras where people don't even know," Freed told WWSB. "They alert law enforcement when a license plate has been flagged, has been stolen so they can hopefully apprehend those individuals."

According to CarBuzz, there are a few other steps you'll need to take, and the process varies depending on where you live. Most states require you to make an in-person visit to get new plates or temporary plates. You can do this after contacting police, as some U.S. states ask for a police report when applying for replacement plates.

To avoid the issue altogether, CarBuzz recommended that you buy specific screws to attach your license plates. These require a "matching security wrench" for removal, and without this tool, thieves won't be able to nab your plates without destroying them entirely.

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