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#1
Old 11-26-2014, 03:55 PM
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Some people obscure license plates in craigslist auto ads. Why?

I've been looking at cars on craigslist, and quite a few people obscure the license plate of the car. Either whiting/blacking it out with photoshop or whatever, or taking a photo with their thumb obscuring the plate.

Why? Auto license plates are clearly visible all the time; is there some sort of scam using that information when posted to a want ad site?
#2
Old 11-26-2014, 04:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chiroptera View Post
I've been looking at cars on craigslist, and quite a few people obscure the license plate of the car. Either whiting/blacking it out with photoshop or whatever, or taking a photo with their thumb obscuring the plate.

Why? Auto license plates are clearly visible all the time; is there some sort of scam using that information when posted to a want ad site?
I don't know if there's a single reason. Who knows why anyone does anything on Craigslist? It's probably out of a desire to maintain privacy. It can also be to prevent someone from trying to steal the car or take parts from it. From a license plate you can usually find the owner's address. Someone could see something they liked in the ad and then go to their house, break into the car, and steal what they wanted.

I test drove a car from CL once and noticed it had seat-back DVD players. The woman selling it said she didn't put that in the ad because she didn't want someone to target her car and steal them.

Sometimes they may not have plates. Maybe the car is unregistered or perhaps it's a dealer trying to pretend he's an owner. So maybe there's nothing there, but the owner doesn't want you to know that.

If you're looking at cars on CL, a good thing to do is to google the person's phone number (if you have it). If they're a dealer, you may find the other cars they've had for sale. Also, google the VIN of the car. If it was in an auction, you may find the sales record of it.

Last edited by filmore; 11-26-2014 at 04:28 PM.
#3
Old 11-26-2014, 04:30 PM
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Some people obscure license plates in craigslist auto ads. Why?

Cars with high values or older enthusiast cars are often targets for theft. With just a license plate number, one can easily find the owner's address.

Early-2000s Audi S4s are often targets for theft as they lack an immobilizer and are said to be pretty easy to steal. A criminal Audi enthusiast may see one on Craigslist that has a lot of money into it and if the license plate is shown, it's an easy target.

That being said, I'm not sure why people with cheap/undesirable cars do it.

Last edited by Hayden; 11-26-2014 at 04:34 PM.
#4
Old 11-26-2014, 04:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by filmore View Post
From a license plate you can usually find the owner's address.



i've seen this asserted a number of times. How?
#5
Old 11-26-2014, 04:36 PM
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Originally Posted by leftfield6 View Post
i've seen this asserted a number of times. How?
Typically, DMV data is public record. See websites like publicdata.com. The information is only supposed to be used for specific purposes, but there's not much validation. You can sign up with a public data website and look up the owner's information from just the plate.

Some states are more restrictive than others, so their information may not be available through those kinds of websites.
#6
Old 11-26-2014, 04:40 PM
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Granted, it may be possible to find the car owner's address from the license plate (although, like leftfield, I have no idea how.)

But, as long as one is driving the vehicle - and all I am looking at are driveable, not garaged and hidden from view - the license plate is visible every time you're on the road.

I am not looking at expensive or collectible cars, BTW. My search parameters are under $5,000, has image, manual transmission. So I am basically looking at fairly pedestrian, well-used, daily driver type cars.

My suspicion is that someone did that once, then it sort of caught on because other sellers thought it might be a good idea for some reason?
#7
Old 11-26-2014, 04:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by leftfield6 View Post
i've seen this asserted a number of times. How?
I call my insurance agent.

There is probably a way to get the information online myself these days. I've never needed to. My insurance agentry has a portal to the registry database, so the few times I've needed to know who owns a vehicle I've called them.
#8
Old 11-26-2014, 05:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chiroptera View Post
Why? Auto license plates are clearly visible all the time; is there some sort of scam using that information when posted to a want ad site?
I'd chalk it up to a generic sense of generalized paranoia when dealing with craigslist. The whole site has developed a fairly bad reputation for being a magnet for sleazy people and sleazy stuff. (The personals especially, but it probably rubs off onto the rest of the whole site too.)
#9
Old 11-26-2014, 05:34 PM
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I can't really see the reason being privacy or keeping their address secret... when a lot of those ads contain the person's phone number which is as or easier to track down their address with than a liscence plate. Hell, if you wanted to steal their car you could just call/email them and find out where they are, when they're home, if the car's gonna be there or even has a battery, get an idea of how careless (or paranoid) they are, etc.

Criminals smart enough to do online searches and take their time (as opposed to desparate drug addicts willing to steal anything not nailed down) would be able to get a lot more info from your contact details than your plate.
#10
Old 11-28-2014, 02:10 AM
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I'm wondering this myself, as I'm shortly going to be selling a car. Thing is, I'm not trading it in, I'm selling it privately, meaning I've already got a new car (with a different plate). Apparently I can get a refund on some of my car registration by returning the plate, which I'll do, after which I really don't care what happens with that number.

I haven't bothered to cut out my plate in my sample shots, FYI.
#11
Old 11-28-2014, 05:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chiroptera View Post
I've been looking at cars on craigslist, and quite a few people obscure the license plate of the car.
Cloning of license plates is a real problem over here.
#12
Old 11-28-2014, 07:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Quartz View Post
Cloning of license plates is a real problem over here.
To expand on this a bit in case anyone is wondering, let's say you steal a silver BMW 3-Series. You can make this harder to catch by immediately putting false plates on it, but with most police cars nowadays having ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras, there is still a high risk of being spotted, and if the ANPR reads your plates and flags up that they are for a red Ford Fiesta, you're going to be stopped and thereafter arrested very quickly. However, if you can go on Autotrader (or Craigslist, or whatever), search for silver BMW 3-series, and then make a false plate identical to one you find online for a similar car, suddenly your stolen car appears legal. This could in turn create hassle for the owner of the car that legitimately has those plates with speeding tickets and whatnot.

So there you have it in a nutshell - a pretty good reason for obscuring your plates in photos of your car, particularly if you are selling it where the pictures can be easily accessed.
#13
Old 11-28-2014, 11:01 AM
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I think it comes down to privacy and security, for both real and imagined/inflated reasons. Any registration number you publicize can be used to track you down or get into deeper public records about you; IMVHO this is bad.

The difference between having your LP number exposed as you drive and exposing it as part of a sale ad is that the ad puts it in a context with other information, possibly email or a phone number or indications about where you work or live. There are many other ways the info could be used in harmful ways (as above - cloning, used to make a stolen vehicle look legit, etc.)

It only takes a moment to blur the number. However slim any of the above reasons might be, I can't think of a single reason not to. So, what would be the arguments against that aren't (1) the seller is wasting his time and (2) it makes some potential buyer roll their eyes?

Last edited by Amateur Barbarian; 11-28-2014 at 11:03 AM.
#14
Old 11-28-2014, 11:15 AM
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Huh, I'd never heard of the fake plate scam for stolen cars. That's certainly a good reason.

Actually in Michigan the license plate stays with the owner, so removing it before putting a car up for sale makes sense since you've got to do it anyway.
#15
Old 11-28-2014, 11:25 AM
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I've noticed that in most TV news, documentaries etc (i.e. where real people's cars rather than props are used) the car number plates are blanked out. Is this done in the USA too?
#16
Old 11-28-2014, 11:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chiroptera View Post
Actually in Michigan the license plate stays with the owner, so removing it before putting a car up for sale makes sense since you've got to do it anyway.
Which adds a little more extra risk regarding faked plates. You sell the car, take the old plates, the buyer gins up fake plates with the old numbers, doesn't bother completing the paperwork (this part happens a lot around here at least with old clunkers), continues driving with seemingly legit plates with you being on the hook for various infractions.
#17
Old 11-28-2014, 11:53 AM
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Originally Posted by ftg View Post
Which adds a little more extra risk regarding faked plates. You sell the car, take the old plates, the buyer gins up fake plates with the old numbers, doesn't bother completing the paperwork (this part happens a lot around here at least with old clunkers), continues driving with seemingly legit plates with you being on the hook for various infractions.
Seems like a lot of effort just to get away with not insuring and registering a clunker - wouldn't it be hard to make legitimate-looking plates and registration stickers? Or maybe not, I don't know.

I have actually bought and sold a few vehicles on craigslist. In addition to signing over the title, I make sure both of us have a bill of sale - you know, I, chiroptera, sold xxx vehicle to Joe Buyer for $xxxx on <date>. Signed by both buyer and seller. Plus calling my insurance agent to cancel the policy. Wouldn't this all get me off the hook if someone tried shenanigans by copying my plate?

Last edited by chiroptera; 11-28-2014 at 11:54 AM. Reason: speling maters
#18
Old 11-28-2014, 11:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colophon View Post
I've noticed that in most TV news, documentaries etc (i.e. where real people's cars rather than props are used) the car number plates are blanked out. Is this done in the USA too?
I've noticed it, although I'm not sure if it's done 100% of the time. Google Earth distorts license plates as well, I assume that Google uses software that does this automatically.
#19
Old 11-28-2014, 12:03 PM
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Originally Posted by chiroptera View Post
Seems like a lot of effort just to get away with not insuring and registering a clunker - wouldn't it be hard to make legitimate-looking plates......
I'ts actually a common skill among repeat offenders.
#20
Old 11-28-2014, 01:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chiroptera View Post
I have actually bought and sold a few vehicles on craigslist. In addition to signing over the title, I make sure both of us have a bill of sale - you know, I, chiroptera, sold xxx vehicle to Joe Buyer for $xxxx on <date>. Signed by both buyer and seller. Plus calling my insurance agent to cancel the policy. Wouldn't this all get me off the hook if someone tried shenanigans by copying my plate?
That would probably help to show that you sold the vehicle. Most states have some paperwork you can file which affirms you sold the car to Joe on a specific date. It's in your best interest to file that as soon as you sell the car. That way if something happens, they know you aren't the owner anymore.

In Texas it's called a Vehicle Transfer Notification
Quote:
If you submit a transfer notification within 30 days of sale, the buyer shown becomes the vehicle's presumed owner and may be subject to criminal or civil liability for parking tickets, toll violations, fines or other penalties that occur after the date of sale.
#21
Old 11-28-2014, 05:50 PM
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Originally Posted by filmore View Post
That would probably help to show that you sold the vehicle. Most states have some paperwork you can file which affirms you sold the car to Joe on a specific date. It's in your best interest to file that as soon as you sell the car. That way if something happens, they know you aren't the owner anymore.

In Texas it's called a Vehicle Transfer Notification
Ah. I don't think we have a similar law here. At least I hope not because if so I've broken it more than once, albeit with no repercussions.
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