AUBURN, Wash. — An Auburn woman noticed right away that someone had stolen an emblem off the back of her car. However, it took her several more days to realize that someone had also taken her license plate and replaced it with a stolen one.
"I immediately called the non-emergency line and he said, 'yeah, that's actually a stolen plate. Do not drive your car anywhere because you could get pulled over and pulled out at gunpoint,'" said Angie Larson. "My heart just dropped."
Auburn police commander Mike Hirman agreed. If an officer pulled over what was believed to be a stolen vehicle, it could be a heightened police encounter and it could potentially be traumatic.
He said this is an example of why it's always a good idea to check your license plate(s).
If a driver found themselves in that position, an officer could verify they own the car by checking the VIN number and registration, but it would take a few steps to get to that point.
Larson said she shudders at the thought of getting pulled over with her kids in the car while driving around with a stolen plate, especially since it's such an easy thing to overlook.
"It's kind of one of those things we take for granted, that it's not going to happen," said Larson. "They had enough care to put our license plate cover back on with the stolen license plate so I wouldn't have noticed. If they hadn't popped the 5 [emblem] off, I don't know how long it would've taken me to realize that something was even wrong."
A Department of Licensing spokesperson said Larson did the right thing by contacting police, so at least there was a record that she had a stolen plate.
Nonetheless, Larson had to spend roughly $40 replacing her plates, and she had to contact her insurance company. They were minor hangups, but hassles nonetheless.
Both Larson and police say it's important to get to know your plates. Taking pictures of your plates can be helpful so you know what they are. Getting tamper-proof screws on your license plates could also help.
This story idea came from the 5 Hive, a private social community on Facebook.