Driver learns from toll bill that his license plates were stolen

SEATTLE – A Seattle driver learned his license plates were stolen after receiving an unexpected toll bill in the mail.

The thefts are nothing new, say law enforcement, asking drivers to check and make sure the plates on your vehicle are actually yours before your morning commute.

“I was reading the bill and I noticed out my window, the license plate on the bill was different than the license plate on the car,” said Patrick Moberg.

Moberg said the toll bill didn’t make sense since he had signed up for the Washington State Department of Transportation's 'Good to Go' with automatic payment. More concerning, the bill showed a license plate different than the one that was currently on his car.

“This license plate actually started with a ‘B.’”

Moberg said like most people, the license plate is not something he checks on his car.

“It could be up to 2 weeks, we were driving around with these license plates and didn’t know it,” he said.

There is only one reported case of license plate theft in Magnolia so far this year. It’s a rare drop in the crime, said Seattle Police, that extends citywide. As of March, license plate theft in Seattle is down 17 percent from the same time last year.

Law enforcement said criminals will often swap out the plates with other ones usually from a stolen car. That makes it harder for you to notice the theft, and means crimes can be committed using your plates.

There’s also the chance there are drivers, like Moberg, who have yet to report the theft, because they haven’t discovered it yet.

“It can happen anytime,” said Joe Deptula, a hardware specialist at Ace Hardware. Deptula said a few years ago customers wanted locking gas caps, this year it’s tamper-proof screws.

“You can go forward with your normal flathead screw driver, but once you try to remove it, it slips right off,” said Deptula. The screws are 60 cents apiece, making them an affordable solution to the license plate theft problem.

“It’s a lot easier to spend a few dollars than spend a whole day of time and getting a new license plate,” he said.

Deptula said replacing the regular screw with a hex screw offers protection as well.

“They could be put on with a socket wrench or a regular wrench, but it’s probably not something a thief has on hand as easily,” he said.

Moberg said he purchased a tamper-proof license plate kit off Amazon that takes a special tool to install and remove.

“I have new license plates but I am not going to put them on until that (special tool) comes,” he said.

The King County Sheriff’s Office said they have approximately 50 cases of license plate thefts since January.