Sudbury

Licence plate thieves use expired plates to cover their tracks

Thirty minutes after she arrived at work on Tuesday morning, a colleague approached to tell Carole Tremblay that the licence plate on her car was missing. 

Sudbury Police receive about 200 complaints of stolen licence plates each year

Being caught with a stolen plate could lead to criminal charges of possession of stolen property. (Jim Becksted)

Thirty minutes after she arrived at work on Tuesday morning, a colleague approached to tell Carole Tremblay that the licence plate on her car was missing. 

She says she went outside to check and found that her front licence plate was gone, but there was still a plate on the back. Unsure of whether the plate fell off or was stolen, she filed a report with the police online.

It wasn't until Tremblay went to ServiceOntario to get a replacement that she discovered the second problem.

The plate on the back of her car wasn't hers. It was another plate, from another vehicle, with a tag that expired in 2018. 

"It didn't seem like a surprise to them, I think it's not the first time they've heard of this happening," she said of the employees who helped her.

The expired plate that had been swapped on to the rear of her vehicle was attached with a single screw. Tremblay suspects that it was put there to prevent her from noticing that something was amiss. 

Constable Michelle Coulombe of the West Nipissing OPP says licence plate thefts aren't overly common, but she was not surprised to hear about the incident.

After Tremblay's sister posted about the incident on Facebook, a number of other Sudbury residents said their plates had also been stolen. None could be reached for additional comment. 

Statistics from the Greater Sudbury Police Service identified that as of August 31st there were 146 licence plate thefts in the area. 

But...why?

There are a number of things that someone may use a stolen plate for, Coulombe said. All of them have to do with protecting the criminal from police scrutiny.

Some police cruisers have cameras on them that detect licence plates. As the camera passes cars on the road it checks the licence plates it sees against a database of those that have been reported stolen. If there's a match, the system alerts the driving officer.

The system does not know which plate is assigned to what car. So a valid plate means the car won't get a second look from police.  

"Sometimes they'll steal just the validation tag," Coulombe said. 

There are also instances, according to Coulombe, where a vehicle is used in the commission of a crime. By swapping out the licence plates criminals could obfuscate the car's identity. 

Potential consequences

Replacement plates cost $59 at Service Ontario. Drivers must bring identification, proof of insurance, and the number of the police report that identifies the plates were stolen.

Had Tremblay been pulled over while driving with the invalid plate she didn't know was there, it's possible she could have received a $170 ticket.

"It's at the officer's discretion," Constable Coulombe said. 

About the Author

Matt is a reporter at CBC Sudbury.

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