Crime Has a New Weapon: 3D-Printed Fake License Plates

When it comes to cars and crime, there are more and more unique ways to achieve illegal success. Stealing a car to strip for parts is much different than stealing it to use to commit other crimes. That’s where this latest swindle comes in, using 3D printing to make fake license plates with real digits to disguise car ownership while committing crimes. 

What kinds of crimes do criminals commit with fake plates?

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Viper license plate | Getty

It’s identity theft spinning in a blender. The problem is when legitimate license plate holders receive tickets or find those gumballs flashing in their rearview mirror. They deny any involvement in crimes and refuse fines for tickets they never received. But the police legitimately have the plate number, so the real owners now have big problems. 

Criminals use fake plates to commit crimes ranging from bank robberies to stealing gasoline. Anything, where a vehicle connects the police to a crime, is where fake plates protect criminals. ABC News in Australia reports on this latest car and crime spree.

How do these fake license plates hurt legitimate owners?

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License plates form a work of art | Getty

And with 3D printers, it is cheap and easy to do. What’s worse is that the police there say there is little they can do about the problem. So, how are criminals finding the plate numbers to help pull off these crimes? 

Criminals find the easiest way is by looking at used car sale sites. One example that ABC News revealed was Braden Rawlinson, who posted a Holden Cruze his grandmother wanted to sell. A few weeks later, police said someone driving that car was in a hit-and-run accident. It was also part of a burglary and stealing gas from a gas station. 

Watch it if you sell a car online

License plates
Old automobile license plates hang on a shop door | Robert Alexander/Getty

Rawlinson showed the police security camera video of the car in question on the day of the supposed crimes parked in his garage. That’s when Rawlinson and the police knew this was a cloned license plate. So posting cars for sale, without blocking the license plate, is not a good thing. 

In other words, if you’re selling a car online, cover the license plate. But that won’t stop the swindling completely. Criminals out and about can just photograph license plates that match fellow criminals’ vehicles to obscure the vehicle’s ownership. 

Can these new attempts protect vehicle owners?

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New York license plate | Getty
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“They must trawl around looking for cars identical to theirs,” said a recent victim. “I had never heard of it, and was surprised someone would do that.” In her circumstance, $3,500 worth of speeding tickets is attributed to her car. 

Australia is combating this type of fraud by using “directional marks.” These are seen from certain angles, much like traffic signals, which you detect from certain lanes. But Australia is taking this one step further. It is adding holograms to license plates, to separate fakes from the real thing. 

Just like with currency, maybe every country needs to incorporate holograms to help limit fake license plates. Otherwise, with police saying they can’t control it, we’re looking at mayhem.