License plate theft, a crime that goes unnoticed

Published: Jan. 2, 2013 at 7:17 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 2, 2013 at 8:27 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) -  A driver's license plate is a very important tool for law enforcement to use to catch criminals, yet it can be unscrewed by anyone in a matter of minutes. WMBF News talked with a local woman who had her license plate stolen for a crime, and she says it's something many people don't think about.

"This is a potential problem," said Felisa McDavid, whose license plates were stolen at the Coastal Grand Mall in Myrtle Beach. "I don't want them or anyone else to be a victim. I had friends calling me concerned, and they were like, 'Wow I never check my plates.'"

Law enforcement says license plate theft is considered a gateway crime. Especially for people who have a suspended license, no insurance, or who are driving a stolen car. Thieves may take off your plates or replace them with stolen plates to escape police.

"They're trying to cover up that deficiency by stealing someone else's license plate," explained Captain David Knipes with the Myrtle Beach Police Department.

"I was very very concerned because if I had not found out so quickly, perhaps I could have been pulled over by the police," said McDavid. "And they would have thought that I stole my own vehicle."

It's a simple crime that can even happen in public parking lots, and in this particular case, at a local mall. Police say there's really no way to prevent it from happening to you, but the best thing is to report your stolen license plate as soon as you can. Once it is reported, it can be put in the National Crime Database, and officials will have what they need to catch the crook.

"If an officer sees a vehicle that looks suspicious to them that has a tag, whether it's a stolen tag or a stolen vehicle, either way when you run it, it's going to come back as stolen. And that person is going to get stopped," said Captain Knipes.

License plate theft is a crime that can go unnoticed, and officials advise that you routinely check your plates. You can also buy special security screws that are difficult to remove with common screwdrivers.

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