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What Can Someone Do With Your License Plate Number?

Fraudsters can’t find out your SSN or other sensitive information from your license plate number alone — but they can use it to scam or impersonate you.

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      Can Someone Steal Your Identity With Your License Plate Number?

      Criminals can use stolen license plates to commit fraud, cover their tracks during a crime, or rack up fines in your name. But do you face the same risks if all they have is just your license plate number?

      The reality is that most people won’t be able to access your sensitive information with just your license plate number — but that doesn’t mean you should ignore this threat.

      In the wrong hands, your license plate number can still provide information that scammers could use to target, impersonate, or track you. 

      In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what scammers can do with your license plate number and what you can do to protect yourself.  

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      What Information Can Someone Get From Your License Plate Number? 

      Your plates are visible to anyone who sees your car in person (or a photo of it). However, simply knowing your license plate number won’t give scammers access to any real sensitive data about you.

      Under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), unauthorized people can’t access personal information from a license plate or motor vehicle record. This information includes your Social Security number (SSN), name and address, driver’s license number, and more [*].

      The DPPA is responsible for protecting drivers. It’s illegal to make false representations to obtain driver information. Any failure to follow the DPPA can result in criminal charges, fines, and even civil claims for actual and punitive damages and attorney fees.

      So, what can someone do with your license plate number?

      While the DPPA protects your sensitive data, there is still some information that can be shared via third-party license plate lookups or through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), including:

      • Vehicle make, model, and year. In some states, third-party license plate searches can reveal basic information about a vehicle.
      • Vehicle identification number (VIN). A VIN number is a unique code assigned to every motor vehicle and can sometimes be found during a license plate search.
      • Home address. Private investigators may sometimes access home addresses through third-party vehicle registration search services. However, these searches are subject to state laws and restricted to authorized individuals or entities.
      • Fuel economy or engine capacity. License plate searches may provide a vehicle's fuel economy or engine capacity.
      • Natural damage. Some third-party services provide vehicle history reports, including damage from natural disasters. Some fraudsters may use this information to aid false damage claims. 
      • Mileage, history, and maintenance. You can access a vehicle's mileage and maintenance records to assess its condition and understand if there are any major issues.
      • Driver criminal history. Police can run license plate checks for police reports, stolen cars, and prior convictions. However, this information is typically unavailable to the public via license plate searches or through the DMV. 
      • Accident history. Some vehicle registration search services can tell you whether the vehicle was involved in a hit-and-run or a collision.
      • Repossession history. With certain services, you can search for a vehicle's financial and ownership background.

      The bottom line: Any information tied to your identity can potentially put you at risk of identity theft and fraud. When it comes to your license plate number, the best thing you can do is regularly monitor your identity and financial accounts for fraud. Learn more about how Aura keeps you safe

      When Can Someone Legally “Run” Your License Plate Number?

      The DPAA strictly prohibits DMVs and third-party services from disclosing a person’s PII (personally identifiable information) — like their address, phone number, or driver's license number. The authorities can only share such sensitive data if the person specifically consents to its disclosure.

      However, in some cases, “running” a license plate is a perfectly legal and common practice — for example, insurance providers working on insurance claims or law enforcement agencies conducting investigations.

      The level of access and what someone can do with the information linked to a license plate depends on who is seeking it. The following people can run your license plates and obtain your sensitive information:

      • Police officers can use your license plates to check your personal information, contact details, insurance data, and criminal history. Police can only do this if they have a valid reason for an investigation, and they cannot share information with third parties.
      • DMV employees can look up license plate information but must follow DPPA and other state regulations. They can only release information from motor vehicle records for specific purposes — for example, motor vehicle or driver safety, theft, or destruction of property.
      • Private investigators (PIs) can run a check on a person's license plate to find information like vehicle owner addresses. If they have legal reasons, they can also find property holdings, bankruptcy records, criminal records, and sex offender registrations. 
      • License plate number lookup websites cannot access DMV records; most only pull data from public records. Some websites are run by licensed PIs who can access more information than the general public can.
      🏆 Get award-winning identity theft and fraud protection — for free. Aura’s award-winning digital security solution monitors and protects your most sensitive information against identity thieves and scammers. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      The 5 Real Risks of What Someone Can Do With Your License Plate Number

      1. Use your license plate number in a phishing scam
      2. Impersonate you at the DMV to steal your sensitive information
      3. Create a fake plate by using your stolen number
      4. Find out your home address and other private information
      5. Track your movements

      It’s unlikely that fraudsters can gain access to your personal information with just your license plate number — but there are other ways they can use it to scam you. 

      Here are five ways someone could use your license plate number to exploit you:

      1. Use your license plate number in a phishing scam

      If scammers have your license plate number and contact information, they can use these details to personalize a phishing scam. For example, they may call or text you and claim to be from the DMV — stating that you owe fees or fines for traffic violations, and that there will be a warrant issued for your arrest if you don't pay immediately. 

      Using your license plate number in a phishing scam can make it seem much more realistic and create a sense of urgency to make you panic into sharing sensitive information or transferring money.

      💡 Related: Did the DMV Text You? Here’s How To Know If It’s a Scam

      2. Impersonate you at the DMV to steal your sensitive information

      With some social engineering, scammers can use your license plate number to trick DMV officials into sharing more sensitive information about you. The imposter could contact the DMV via phone or email and probe for more information about your license, vehicle, or other personal details.

      If you believe someone else is using your DMV license permit to steal your identity, it is important that you report the theft. You can report fraud to the DMV by going to the official website of your state’s DMV office.

      3. Create a fake plate by using your number

      Imagine opening your mailbox and finding a letter stating that you must appear in court for a crime you didn't commit. Scammers can steal someone's license plate registration number and assign it to another car — known as number plate cloning. 

      Dealing with the consequences of a stolen license plate can be scary and frustrating. In most cases, you’ll need to pay for new plates or hire a lawyer to handle the legal and financial consequences of someone using your plates for criminal activity.

      💡 Related: Someone Bought a Car In My Name — What Should I Do?

      4. Find out your home address and other private information

      Scammers can use online license plate scanning services to target victims for future scams. It's possible to use these online services to check vehicle license plate number information in certain states. 

      Someone could abuse this service to find out where a car owner lives if they have traffic violations — and even where they've traveled in recent months. Someone could use your address to run various scams, including Amazon brushing scams.

      5. Track your movements

      A hacker who knows your license plate number could trace your vehicle’s movements on public databases, or by exploiting the car’s GPS. While these types of surveillance may seem like scenes from a movie, this intrusion of privacy is a real threat.

      In 2022, flaws in a popular GPS tracker could have enabled hackers to remotely track, stop, and even take control of vehicles [*]. If someone knows your license plate number, you become a viable target — especially if they want to steal your car or immobilize you as part of a larger plot.  

      💡 Related: Was Your Car Registration Stolen? Here’s What To Do

      Can You Hide Your License Plate Number? 

      Unfortunately, it’s against the law to hide or obscure your license plate number. All states require that drivers keep their license plates visible and legible.

      The same goes for products designed to obstruct license plates, like acrylic or resin reflective gels, smart stickers, or smart glass license plate covers. In most states, it’s against the law to attach anything to your license plate that would make it unreadable or obscured.

      One exception in which you can — and should — hide your license plate as a precaution is when sharing images online. Always blur your license plate before uploading pictures to social media, websites, and forums. This measure will reduce the risks of vehicle identity theft or number plate cloning.

      The Bottom Line: Your License Plate Is Only a Small Risk to Your Identity

      The potential damage that a scammer can cause with your license plate number is small. However, not safeguarding your license plate number can open you up to further scams and potential fraud — especially if criminals manage to get other personal information, like your SSN and home address. 

      In all cases, it pays to secure your identity from criminals and fraudsters. 

      Here are seven ways to protect yourself online and in real life:

      • Limit the personal information that you share online. A good practice is to limit the personal information you publish online or on social media. This precaution makes it harder for scammers to use information like your license plate number to scam you or uncover more sensitive data.
      • Update your social media privacy settings. Ensure that you aren't exposing personal information on social media, like your phone number or home address. Also, be cautious about friend requests or messages from people you don’t know or have never met.
      • Secure your online accounts with strong and unique passwords. Strong passwords are the cornerstone of online security. Don’t use easy-to-guess passwords like your kid’s name or your anniversary. Instead, create complex combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols for every account
      • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). Two-factor authentication is a security measure that requires a second verification step in addition to your password. Adding a fingerprint scan or authenticator app to the process makes it harder for hackers to take over your accounts. 
      • Don’t click on links in suspicious emails, text messages, or social media posts and direct messages (DMs). If you receive a random message from someone claiming to represent a company, it’s best to do a Google search and contact the business directly through its official website. Never follow the links or phone numbers in unsolicited communications.
      • Keep your software updated, and enable auto-updates. A lot of viruses and malware exploit issues in old versions of software. Protect yourself from cyber attacks by switching on automatic updates to stay in line with the most current patches and upgrades.
      • Consider signing up for an all-in-one identity theft protection provider. Aura’s award-winning, all-in-one solution provides 24/7/365 identity and fraud protection — including three-bureau credit monitoring with the industry’s fastest fraud alerts3. If you fall victim to identity theft, you and your family are covered for up to $5 million in eligible losses, and Aura’s U.S.-based White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists are available around the clock to help you liaise with banks, creditors, and government agencies so that you can recover as quickly as possible. 

      It’s highly unlikely that fraudsters can use your license plate alone to commit identity theft because of the laws and regulations applicable to information sharing. But because we live in an age of AI voice cloning and sophisticated cybercrime, the threat of hacking and fraud is never far away. 

      Stay safe by blurring out photos of your license plate and keeping a keen eye on your identity and finances for early warning signs of fraud. 

      Ready for ironclad security against identity thieves? Try Aura free for 14 days.

      Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you to increase awareness about digital safety. Aura’s services may not provide the exact features we write about, nor may cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat discussed in our articles. Please review our Terms during enrollment or setup for more information. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime.

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