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Home --> Fraud & Scams --> Autos --> Plate Shift

Plate Shift

Scam:   Crooks steal license plates to facilitate "pump and run" gasoline thefts.

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, May 2008]

Keep an Eye on your license plate.

From a State Office: Pass it on to those you know. Thanks

A woman said her son found his license plate missing so he called the police to file a report. They told him people were stealing the plates to get free gas. Given the rise in gas prices, people have taken to stealing license plates, putting them on their car, then getting gas and running. The gas station will have "your" license plate # and you could be in trouble for "pump and run." Check your car periodically to be sure you still have a plate. If you should find it missing, file a report immediately!!! Keep an eye on your license plate! Make sure you always know it's there! When the license plate is reported as the "drive off vehicle", it's YOU they contact! Be aware!!!! Be aware of your license plates, most of us never look to see if the plates are there or not.
 

[Collected via e-mail, July 2006]

Just a warning...

A woman said her son found his license plate missing so he called the police to file a report. They told him people were stealing the plates to get free gas. Given the rise in gas prices, people have taken to stealing license plates, putting them on their car, then getting gas and running. The gas station will have "your" license plate # and you could be in trouble for "pump and run." Check your car periodically to be sure you still have a plate. If you should find it missing, file a report immediately!!!
 

[Collected via e-mail, July 2006]

Just an FYI that is going to sound ridiculous.....

Keep an eye on your license plate! Make sure you always know it's there! Mine was stolen this weekend and I have no idea when! The lady at the revenue office said that they have replaced several license plates since gas prices have been so high. People are stealing them, putting them on their vehicles to go buy gas and driving off without paying! When the license plate is reported as the "drive off vehicle", it's YOU they contact! Be aware!!!!

Origins:   Rapidly escalating prices have sharply increased the amount of cash people need to have at the ready when refueling their vehicles. This new economic reality has resulted in a rise in "pump and run" gasoline thefts, a form of heist in which perpetrators fill up their vehicles and drive away without paying.

According to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), in 2004 gasoline theft cost the industry an estimated $237 million, with the average loss per store pegged at $2,141. Yet even with that information, it's hard to put a finger on the magnitude of the current problem
because the rise in gasoline prices has driven up the dollar value of the goods being stolen. (The typical cost of a gasoline drive-off five years ago was $20, but that same tankful in 2006 is now $40 to $60, according to a gas station owner in Madison, Wisconsin.) Also on the rise is the number of people doing the stealing, with the economic pinch felt at the pumps — combined with the desire to "punish" station owners who are (unfairly) perceived to be reaping wild profits — motivating some ordinarily law-abiding consumers to turn to pilferage.

However, while gas theft is on the rise and there have been instances of pump and runs by vehicles bearing stolen plates, the situation warned against in the e-mail is not epidemic. There has not been a sudden sharp upswing in the number of gasoline drive-offs where stolen tags were involved, and even among reported pump-and-run cases, thefts facilitated by stolen plates are still fairly few and far between. (Obviously the opportunity for perpetrating this form of crime is limited to the distinct minority of service stations that still allow customers to pump before paying and/or offer full service.) Therefore, while the warnings offered via e-mail are valid, this is not really information that needs to be spread to everyone's nearest and dearest at the speed of light.

The ill-intentioned do make off with license plates, but it is much more likely purloined tags will be used to disguise stolen vehicles being moved from one location to another or armed robbery getaway cars than they will to obscure the identities of those filching gas. If not to protect yourself from accusations of gas theft, if you discover one of your tags has gone missing, you should certainly notify police, because by so doing you might be helping to foil a far more serious crime in progress.

Barbara "blew plate special" Mikkelson

Last updated:   25 May 2008

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  Sources Sources:
    Klinkenberg, Jeff.   "Sticker Shock."
    St. Petersburg Times.   6 April 2004.

    Lawrence, Damon.   "Gas Drive-Offs, Like Gas Prices, Are on Rise."
    Columbus [GA] Ledger-Enquirer.   18 June 2006.

    Associated Press.   "Thieves Benefit When Stolen Tags Aren't Reported, Police Say."
    15 January 2006.

    Associated Press.   "Racing from Pumps Over Rising Prices."
    18 June 2006.

    The Bismarck Tribune.   "More People Driving Off Without Paying Now."
    2 June 2006   (p. B1).