As disconcerting as it would be to go out and find that one’s vehicle has been stolen, some motorists are learning just how maddening it is when thieves make off with their car or truck’s license plates. And it’s a growing problem in some parts of eastern Missouri.
It was recently reported that license plate theft is up 130 percent in St. Louis over the same period from a year ago. In January alone, police in the city say reports of license plate theft had increased from 49 in 2012 to 113 this year.
In Hannibal, police acknowledge that while license plates do turn up missing, it’s not an growing issue as it is in St. Louis.
“There has always been instances of vehicle plates being stolen throughout the city, but it is not an epidemic nor are we seeing any upswing in reports,” said Lt. John Zerbonia of the HPD.
Out in the county, Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Shinn says while that crime is not a problem, it doesn’t hurt for vehicle owners to be vigilant.
“Check your vehicle periodically to make sure both your plates are on there and if they’re not, report it immediately so local law enforcement can get it into the computer that these plates have been lost or stolen,” he said.
According to Zerbonia, the motive behind the crime is that thieves are “trying to avoid registering the vehicle.”
In years past most thieves would stop at cutting the registration tab off the edge. After the public was advised by the Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) to put the tab in the middle of regular license plates, thieves began taking the entire plate.
To help motorists thwart thieves, law enforcement in St. Louis has begun selling clear plate covers and anti-theft fasteners.
Zerbonia has advice for anyone planning on using a cover to protect their license plates.
“People have to be sure that anything they purchase and install doesn’t obscure the plate from being seen by law enforcement,” he said.
The DOR also now offers “enhanced security tabs” that display a vehicle’s unique license plate number directly on the tab itself, enabling law enforcement to quickly and easily detect whether the tab on the vehicle matches the license plate.
Victims of plate or tab theft can receive up to two sets of replacement plates or tabs per year. The only cost is a $3.50 processing fee when their application and notarized affidavit are accompanied by a police report verifying that their plates or tabs were stolen.
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(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)