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Do you know what to do if your license plate is stolen?

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

license plate
(© Jens Rother –

On Feb. 2, I went to get in my car to drive to lunch in downtown Staunton. I usually walk around my car and check to make sure my tires are good and no new scratches are on my car. This time, I noticed something was missing on the front of my car.

My license plate.

I had not previously noticed the plate was at risk of slipping off because it was not missing any screws. In fact, all four screws were also missing.

Someone had stolen my license plate. I would have expected this before I moved to the Valley when I lived in Waldorf, Md., not while living in the Queen City.

As any good journalist would do, I did my research. What do you do when someone steals your license plate? The first task is to call your local police department and report the theft. An officer with Staunton Police Department took my information and asked several interesting questions.

Did I have any suspects to the crime? Well, I recently had a disagreement with my neighbor for his playing video games loudly during quiet hours, but I didn’t think he would have stolen my plate.

Where was the car parked? In the garage below my apartment building.

Was it backed in to my parking space? Yes. This provided ample opportunity for someone to come along and quickly take the plate.

Are cameras in the parking garage? No. Perhaps my apartment community should install them if this is going to become a problem for my neighbors.

The officer warned me that until I obtained new license plates, I might be pulled over by a police officer and that I should remain calm and explain that I was the one who reported the plate stolen. “It can be scary,” he said.

The rest of my research informed me that replacing my license plates as soon as possible was important to discourage identity theft. My thoughts: hey, if whoever stole my license plate also wants to be me and pay my car payments, student loan payments and have my credit card debt, they can go right ahead.

Before I had a chance to replace the plates, however, I found out what happened to my stolen plate. A part of me had expected to eventually find out, but not that soon. Apparently, a man stole my plate and put it on a green Chevy Trailblazer. Within two weeks, his luck ran out and he hit a woman’s car in Charlottesville and left the scene. She managed to obtain the license plate number for police. When I was contacted about the incident, I contacted Staunton PD again and shared the new information.

Crime never pays. When that man stole my plate, it was a matter of time before he would have gotten pulled over for a broken taillight or running a red light, and police would have discovered my stolen plate on his vehicle.

A couple of days after finding out what happened to my stolen plate, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles where I expected to have to pay for new plates and registration, but the customer service representative said she would only charge me $10 for the new license plates, because it was not my fault that someone stole my plate. My registration is good until April.

Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. If you ever have a license plate stolen, I hope your story also has a happy ending.

augusta free press
augusta free press
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