Number plate theft is on the rise in Victoria

thief removing car number plate

Danny Baggs

Posted May 09, 2022


Number plate theft is a big problem in Victoria, with nearly 15,000 number plate thefts recorded in 2021. Find out why number plate theft is on the rise, which areas are hit the hardest, and what you can do to protect your car.

Thieves across Victoria are targeting vehicle number plates, lifting them off cars and transferring them to their own vehicles to carry out crimes, often with stolen vehicles. With so many cars parked in sleepy side streets and at car yards, thieves have plenty of targets to choose from. However, not all number plate theft entails physical theft. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to make your number plates more difficult to steal – both in person and online.


Number plate theft - everything you need to know

Why is number plate theft on the rise?

Most people hide personal possessions from view and lock their cars because they are aware of the possibility of burglars breaking into their vehicles. But “one of the most common items stolen from a car is number plates,” according to CEO of Neighbourhood Watch, Bambi Gordon. “Neighbourhood Watch has been educating people about the need to secure their number plates for nearly 40 years.”

Offenders use stolen number plates on cars to help them carry out other crimes without being traced and identified. The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) reports that over 50% of fuel theft, and various other crimes, involves stolen number plates. Crimes include:

  • Petrol drive offs – particularly rife due to rising fuel costs

  • Burglaries and ram raids

  • Drug trafficking

  • Avoiding speeding and parking fines

  • Avoiding tollway fees

Ordinarily, CCTV cameras, video recognition technology (often found on toll roads) and concerned bystanders will record an offender’s number plate to report to the police. If stolen number plates are used, fees and fines will be sent to the registered owner instead of the offender, often weeks in arrears of the offence. It also means that police will also have a much harder time identifying the perpetrator involved in more serious crimes like burglaries.

car parked alone in dark carpark

Parking your car in a dark and isolated area can increase risk of number plate theft. Image: Getty


 

Which suburbs in Victoria are most affected by number plate theft?

The Crime Statistics Agency (CSA) reported 14,962 number plate thefts across Victoria in 2021, up 37% over the past decade. The areas most affected by number plate theft across Victoria by police jurisdiction include:

Police Region

Recorded Offences

Most Affected Local Government Area

Recorded Offences in Government Area

Northwest Metro Victoria

6,994

Brimbank

895

Southern Metro Victoria

3,724

Casey

823

Eastern Victoria

2,552

Monash

532

Western Victoria

1,688

Greater Geelong

576

Source: Crime Statistics Agency Victoria

Brimbank has remained the hardest hit area for number plate thefts since 2014-5, when the CSA released a spotlight on theft from motor vehicles. Brimbank suburbs include Albion, Cairnlea, Deer Park, Derrimut, Keilor Downs, St Albans, Sunshine, and Tullamarine.

Can my number plates be stolen online?

Number plate theft is not limited to physical removal. Number plates can also be virtually stolen, or cloned, by thieves who grab your number plate when they see it listed online for sale, such as from car marketplace websites, and print it on special laminated paper to attach over their own number plates on a similar car.

“My number plate was stolen after listing my 2013 Toyota 86 for sale online on a trusted car marketplace website,” explains David, an RACV Member who was a victim of online number plate theft.

“At first, I thought an unexpected toll road invoice that I received was a mistake - I was at work at the time of the toll road use. However, over the course of the next two weeks, I was inundated by toll road invoices for travel at all times of the day and night across Melbourne. 
 
“Receiving so many invoices was distressing and required lots of time at the local police station and on the phone to toll road operators. It's hard to prove your innocence when your number plate is attached to another car that is the same make, model and colour as yours, and is clearly photographed using toll roads. 
 
“My worst thought was that my number plate could be attached to a stolen car involved in a serious crime or driving offence. The only solution was to stop driving, leave my car locked in a garage and for police to issue a warrant for my number plate, which was successful after a few days. Unsurprisingly, the car operating on toll roads with my stolen number plates had also been stolen.”

man taking photo of red car

Be careful to blur or remove images of your number plates when posting your car online for sale. Image: Getty


 

How can I protect my car from number plate theft?

If you take the time to secure your number plates, thieves are likely to pass over your car for an easier target.

To protect your car from number plate theft, install anti-theft screws (also called safe plate screws, one-way screws or security screws) that can’t be easily removed. Normal number plate screws have heads that are compatible with either a bladed or a Phillips head screwdriver and are very easy to remove. Anti-theft screws, on the other hand, can be installed with a bladed screwdriver but need a special tool to be removed. Because thieves need to get your number plate off before they are noticed and reported by passers-by, this tactic makes stealing your number plate an unattractive option.

Park your car in a locked garage where possible to protect yourself from number plate theft. If you don’t have a garage at home, park off the street in your driveway or carport so that the car is closer to your house (and therefore a riskier target to thieves).

To protect your number plates online, ensure that you blur your number plates on any images you post to auto marketplaces when selling your car, or social media, with a free photo editor app or website.

man screwing on car number plate

Use anti-theft screws to keep your number plates safe. Image: Getty


 

Where can I get anti-theft screws to protect my number plates?

Anti-theft screws to protect your number plates are inexpensive (about $10) and available from most auto shops, hardware stores and service stations. You can also get them for free at Safe Plate events run by Neighbourhood Watch.

“We talk to car drivers about keeping their vehicle and possessions safe while our volunteers fit one-way screws to the number plates,” explains Gordon. “As we come out of COVID restrictions many Groups are organising Safe Plate events for their local community. Fitting one-way screws to number plates is just one of the many ways that Neighbourhood Watch makes crooks cranky.”

car with personalised numberplates

Thieves sometimes target personalised number plates as 'trophies'. Image: Getty


 

What should I do if my number plates are stolen?

If the worst does come to pass and your number plates are stolen, make sure to immediately report the theft to local police by visiting your nearest police station, by calling 131 444, or by submitting an online form. This helps police to identify stolen number plates and detect offenders.

You should then visit a VicRoads Customer Service Centre with evidence of identity to receive a new set of general issue number plates, which will have a different letter and number combination to your old number plates. Bring anti-theft screws along to your appointment so that you can affix your new number plates before you leave VicRoads.

Make sure to advise your insurance company, roadside assistance, and toll road operators of your new registration details.

 


RACV Car Insurance can protect you against loss in the event of car theft.
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The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.