I have to admit, I almost fell for it too. I figured there had to be some kind of search engine that would have access to a database that holds license plate numbers. It makes sense at first, it’s not like that kind of information isn’t already public knowledge.
If you Google “license plate search” the first site listed, a site you would anticipate being somewhat legitimate. As it would turn out, it was a cleverly placed scam.
They had a clean site, streamlined with the necessary information. A few lines to build rapport, offering an appealing sounding search engine and database. Their site has access to EVERY registered plate. Their site will tell you up front if it exists or it doesn’t… other sites produce data and could give you misleading or outdated information even when there might not be a true match to the plate numbers and letters. And plainly and simply, what everyone wants to hear, their site will get you matches using incomplete data (because who can remember all 6 numbers and the state!).
I fell for it too. Nowhere on the front page do they describe a payment, it looks free, and all I need to do is hit the state and the numbers/letters I had remembered, and I would be on my way.
It would be that easy. No work other than a two second search on Google. No doing any research or homework. There will likely be a payment, but I would already be invested in the endeavor… after all, I’ve invested all of minutes of time in it already… going through the trouble of booting up my computer and remembering a few letters or numbers… taxing stuff.
So I would pay the small menial fee for the first set of information that would be sent to my email address; which, by now they probably have most of my contact information, my credit card number, and a proof of purchase, and I would be emailed my information regarding the plate I was searching.
That was easy, someone click the Office Max button. But what’s ironic is that it wasn’t me that it was so easy for… without lifting a finger or doing an ounce of work, someone just got a good chunk of my identity gift wrapped and mailed instantly overnight.
But I don’t know this yet, so to get a more complete analysis, I would have to pay more. Or I could go with the even better deal, a subscription of fifteen dollars a month so I would haven’t to go through this mess next time.
By now, it’s probably meaningless. The damage would be done.
I didn’t actually search anything with this site, but if someone I am describing did… sure, he or she might get some incomplete, inaccurate information about a previous match to a license plate search… but now that the credit card information is out there, what’s to stop a scammer from going beyond the 15.99 subscription and start up fee?
License Plate Searches Are Scams
There’s no dance around it, no matter how many DMV’s and driver databases a site claims to have access to, the site is probably a scam. And as disconcerting as the fact that such a broad search term on Google opens up with a site that will rip you off, there probably are legitimate websites available that (with work and money) correct and current information can be gathered. But there aren’t many of them.
So here are some things to look for to spot a fraudulent site:
- The website will not publish much or any contact information. Just like that site I first went to, they are not interested in discussing why they are scam artists over the phone (or anywhere for that matter) they just want to give me the impression everything and every click is that easy while I willing give my information out.
- The website promotes INSTANT searches. This information is not simply available from a computer in seconds. It takes hours if not days (in best case scenarios) to get information back from state DMVs (as it should—you wouldn’t want someone having instant access to your information right?) So don’t be fooled into thinking that just because it’s on the internet, and it took you an instant to find their site out of the millions of hits, that they have the power to do the same thing with vehicle registrations—because they don’t.
- The website promotes FREE searches or monthly subscription rates. Not only is this information not free from those that have the responsible means of gathering it (meaning the people with legitimate jobs in charge of this activity wouldn’t do it for free), subscription rates are likely (they are) going to be marketing affiliates getting paid on referrals and subscriptions. They could care less about your misfortune or inaccurate results.
How Do I Search License Plates?
The only 100% certain means of getting a credible and factual license plate search is done through a government body or a privately bonded and licensed search agent. Current license plate records are maintained by individual State Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) so the first place to look is where you renew your license. Government centers often have a department set up to streamline this information and would be the second place to look. The price per search will vary per state to state, charging anywhere from ten to fifteen dollars a plate (I told you it wouldn’t be free).
But one thing is for sure, unless the site is backed by a privately bonded and licensed agent, providing a plethora of contact information and referrals to allow for adequate research on your end, stay off the internet and away from “free license plate” searches. Google state Departments of Motor Vehicles and expect to pay a fee, not a subscription. At least this way you know you are aren’t getting scammed (or just by the government)!