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Sticker Shock

Scam:   Sticker thieves steal registration validation stickers from automobile license plates.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, April 2009]

Yet another dirty trick foisted on legitimate drivers:

While my car was in to have the front brakes renewed on Friday March 27th, one of the mechanics commented that someone had stolen my sticker. When I asked what he was talking about, he took me to the back of the car to show me where someone had removed my newly applied February 2010 vehicle validation sticker.

Most of us simply clean off the surface of the previous sticker and put the new one on top of it. That way, all a thief has to do is to pry off the layered stack, clean up the back and glue your sticker onto their license plate, or worse, sell it to someone else to apply it to theirs. This allows them to avoid the need to bother about paying for an Emissions Test, paying the renewal fee of $74.00, or the new "Miller" private vehicle tax (only in Toronto) and, by extension, probably drive uninsured. Next year they will simply repeat the process with another stolen sticker. Unless they are stopped by the police for some reason and the ownership validation sticker number is checked against the number on the sticker on the license plate, they may well get away with it for years.

On Monday I went to the Ministry of Transportation to obtain my new sticker; they indicated that this is quite common. The replacement cost was $7.00 — once again the victim takes the hit.

This time I scraped the sticker location completely clean of old stickers, washed the site with lighter fluid, and then applied the new one and rubbed it down well.

The lady that served us indicated that once the site is cleaned off and the new sticker is applied and well rubbed down, if you take a sharp Exacto knife or something similar and score lines vertically and horizontally across the sticker, it guarantees that it can only be removed in small, useless pieces. This tip came from a customer who had been hit, as we were. Our new sticker is now in place and well scored. Incidentally, as the license plate is aluminum, there is no risk of rusting due to the scoring.

Whenever you replace your validation sticker my advice is to completely remove all traces of the old sticker(s) and follow the process above. At least then the thief will steal someone else's sticker.

Please advise your friends and relatives. Note: While this happened in Toronto, it could happen anywhere in the province or for that matter anywhere that uses a similar validation sticker.
 

Origins:   The practice of displaying license plates on our vehicles is more than a century old, which means we've had time to somewhat improve the original concept. Whereas decades ago each new year brought a new set of plates for car owners to deal with, these days actual plates are issued only at the time vehicles are initially registered. Proof that the appropriate annual fee has been paid and that a vehicle on the road has passed whatever emissions tests are routinely required of it are now communicated by the presence of stickers on license plates indicating the month and year of renewal.

These stickers are a whole lot easier to affix to our car than were the annual new plates of decades earlier. Whereas car owners of previous generations had to each year unbolt their expired (and often rusted in place) plates to replace them with ones bearing the current year's imprimatur, we of more modern times have only
to peel the backing from our renewal stickers, then press these validations onto the appropriate spot on our plates. However, that stickers are a whole lot easier to affix also means that they are a whole lot easier to remove.

Registation sticker theft is nothing new. Those who want to continue operating their vehicles yet are loath to part with mandated annual renewal fees or who own conveyances that cannot pass required emissions tests (and thus would not qualify for licensing) sometimes make off with the stickers from other people's plates.

Making sticker theft a more attractive proposition was the city of Toronto's imposition in September 2008 of an additional fee on vehicle owners which upped the cost of acquiring annual license plate validation stickers. This Personal Vehicle Tax (PVT) surcharge added an extra $60 charge on top of the $74 provincial fee applicable in southern Ontario. (Those with mopeds or motorcycles pay an extra $30 over the respective $12 or $42 provincial fees.)

While the news in Toronto is not exactly awash with accounts of stickers being purloined, that there might have been a consequent rise in such thefts since the new fees went into effect can't be ruled out. However, that is not to say that vehicle owners (in Toronto or elsewhere) need resort to unusual methods to safeguard their registration stickers.

In Ontario, the cost of replacing a missing or damaged registration sticker is $7, a price that hardly makes worthwhile scraping off all previous years' accumulation before affixing this year's sticker, in additional to scoring it repeatedly with an Exacto knife. Most people's time is worth more than that. Moreover, scoring the sticker with a knife to make it difficult for thieves to remove is also going to make it more difficult for the vehicle owner to remove next year when it's time to repeat the process of displaying a new validation after first stripping off the old one. (Also, the fact that you've scored and scratched your validation sticker doesn't mean someone won't try to remove it anyway, in which case you'd still have to obtain a new one.)

As for the thieves, while having up-to-date validation stickers on their vehicles might keep them from being pulled over for not displaying proof of current registration, it won't help them if police ever have cause to "run the plates"; that is, query the police database for more information about the vehicle they've stopped by entering the plate number in their computer. At that point, the unregistered state of the car will make itself known when the plates show as expired. Police as a matter of policy run plates when they stop vehicles they suspect have committed traffic violations, but they also often query the plates of cars around them as they drive along, as well as those of disabled vehicles pulled off to the side of the road. In other words, as little as getting a flat tire or having a police cruiser pull into the lane next to them can be all it takes to land the miscreants in hot water.

So, while there is some small reason to fear your vehicle license registration sticker might get stolen, given the small cost of replacing it you need not feel inspired to engage in wildly protective measures to safeguard that item. Also, given how easily the ruse of putting a live sticker on a dead plate is exposed, you likewise needn't necessarily fear that any thief who did take your sticker is truly going to get away scot-free.

Barbara "sticker stickler" Mikkelson

Additional information:
    Ontario Validation Sticker Renewal   Validation Sticker Renewal
  (Ontario Ministry of Transportation)
    Toronto Personal Vehicle Tax FAQ   Personal Vehicle Tax FAQ
  (Service Ontario)
Last updated:   28 April 2009

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