Imagine you are out shopping, and someone stops to snap a picture of your license plate. Your mind starts racing, wondering, “why would someone take a picture of my license plate? Have I done something wrong?” This article is for you if you’re concerned about what this means and what kind of information people can learn from your plate.
These are the most common reasons that someone might take a picture of your license plate:
- The person has a similar car and wants to make a fake plate using your number.
- If you are observed committing a crime or traffic violation, someone may take a picture to turn you over to law enforcement.
- A license plate can be used to obtain the car owner’s address, but most personal information is sealed from the general public.
While it may be concerning when someone snaps a picture of your license plate, your personal information is relatively safe. Most of it is restricted to law enforcement, government officials, and the DMV.
What Information Can They Find Out from My License Plate?
Even with your complete license plate number, ordinary citizens are limited to basic information they can obtain about you. A DMV(1) lookup can provide information on a car, but this is limited based on the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA).
With just the license plate number, anyone can obtain the make, model, and year of your car(2). However, the same information is available through a visual inspection of the car. This data can be obtained from online databases that also offer to provide more personal information for a fee. This extra service typically does not work and is often illegal.
Third-party lookup tools can also provide some more detailed information. This information includes:
- Accident history
- Repossession history
- Fuel economy and engine capacity
- Natural damage
- History of maintenance
- Driver criminal history
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Can Someone Find Your Address From Your License Plate?
In some states, looking up a person’s name and address from their license plate number is illegal or not possible. To start with, you would need the license plate number and the state it was issued in.
You will have to contact the DMV of the appropriate state to determine if the car owner’s address and name are considered public information in that jurisdiction. If it is, you will be able to file a request either over the phone or via the website.
Some states require filing a formal request, which consists of paperwork obtained from state offices, websites, or the DMV. A fee may be associated with the request, and wait times vary by jurisdiction.
The results are provided by mail or via a link to a website. Occasionally, you may be required to visit a government office to view the resulting paperwork.
Another method of getting the name and address with a license plate is to contact the police. By filing a crime report, like a hit and run, the police will generate a report that will have the name and address of the car owner that you provided a license plate number.
However, it should be noted that none of these methods guarantee that you will obtain the driver’s information. You are simply getting the data of the registered owner of the vehicle. Anyone could have been driving the car.
What Can Someone Do with Your License Plate Number? (Can They Steal Your Identity?)
If someone has a similar car, they can take a picture of your license plate to make a fake plate for their vehicle. That way, if they do something illegal and the police run their plate, it will come back to you and your car.
Someone can take a picture of your license plate if they have witnessed you doing something illegal. They can use this information to turn you over to the police for investigation.
Most people do not have access to your personal information by looking up your license plate number. Only law enforcement officers, government officials, and the DMV have access to this information. Officers can view your vehicle information, current registration status, current driver status, and active warrant status.
The license plate can be used for looking up information on the vehicle’s history for used car research. If you are interested in purchasing a car, you may want to look up specifics related to how the car has been managed, any accidents it has been in, and its mileage.
For nefarious reasons, some people may try to look up other people by their license plates.
They may have met someone in passing and want to know more about them, so they look up their name and address from their license plate.
They may also have someone they have problems with, like the person who routinely takes their parking spot. Looking up their information would give them access to confronting them.
Your identity cannot be stolen from your license plate.
The information that can be obtained from this is very limited in scope for the general public.
Is It Illegal to Take Pictures of Someone’s License Plates (and Post It?)
It is perfectly legal to take pictures of someone’s license plates and post them online.
As long as the pictures are taken in a public place, you have done nothing illegal. You own the pictures’ copyright and can do with them what you want, including posting them online.
For instance, popular mapping technology like Google’s street view and Bing Streetside posts pictures of cars, sometimes with license plates in full view. They attempt to blur the license plates, but it is impossible to do in every scenario, and they fully admit that.
On the other hand, if you make a post and incite violence against a person and include identifying information like their license plate number, you will get yourself into a lot of trouble. Attaching any false information to the photo could also allow the vehicle owner the opportunity to sue you.
Should I Be Worried That Someone Took a Picture of My License Plates? What Can I do About It?
If the photos were taken in a public place, there is nothing that you can do about it, except politely ask the individual not to photograph your car. The owner of the pictures can even post them online because it is not illegal.
None of your personal information can be obtained from your license plate, so your identity cannot be stolen. Law enforcement personnel, government officials, and DMV associates are the only individuals who can obtain accurate personally identifying information on you from just your license plate number.
You should not be worried if someone snaps a picture of your tag unless you have done something wrong. If you have committed a crime or traffic violation, the person taking the photo may turn you over to the police for investigation.
There are various reasons for someone to take a picture of your license plate. They could be trying to steal your tag for their own nefarious purposes. They may be trying to get you in trouble with law enforcement for a crime or traffic violation they saw you commit. They may simply be trying to get your name and address.
The average person cannot get personally identifiable information from a license plate. Looking up a license plate for this kind of information is illegal in most areas. If someone takes a picture of your tag, it is not something to worry about unless you have done something wrong.