There's been an uptick of stolen license plates – here's what you can do to protect yours

They steal them to conceal their identity while committing other crimes.
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There's been an uptick in reports of stolen license plates in Fridley, and now police are giving people tips so it doesn't happen to them.

The City of Fridley posted about the recent thefts on Facebook this week, with Lt. Ryan George telling GoMN thefts like this are usually a crime of opportunity based on necessity.

Someone will steal license plates to "conceal the identity of their vehicle or themselves" when they commit a crime, giving the suspect some added anonymity because a witness or surveillance camera wouldn't be taking note of the suspect's actual license plate information, George says.

The Fridley Police Department has arrested people in the past who used stolen license plates when they got gas and drove off without paying.

"Typically, the offender will park somewhere near the gas station and put the stolen plates on their vehicle just prior to stealing fuel. They will then remove the stolen plates very soon thereafter, allowing them to drive around with their own plates, but using stolen fuel," George told GoMN.

Thieves will also steal license plates to hide the fact that a vehicle was stolen and replace them with the plates from the stolen car, which could lead an officer to think the vehicle the victim is driving is stolen, even though it isn't.

As for how often this happens, it's not quite clear. George says they don't specifically record license plate thefts, they're usually lumped in with other thefts. And the state of Minnesota doesn't keep track of these statistics either.

George says they don't have any suspects in connection to the recent thefts.

How to prevent theft

Fridley police say you can deter a license plate thief by replacing the screws that hold the plate on with a bolt fastened by a flat washer and lock nut. If you put it on right, the bolts will just spin if someone tries to remove them with a screwdriver, according to a post on the City of Fridley's Facebook page.

"The extra tools and effort needed to remove the plate will likely send the thief away to an easier target," the post says.

There are also plate safe lock devices you can buy that are designed to do the same thing. Here are some for sale on Amazon, they start at as low as $5.

If your license plates get stolen, the Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services told GoMN you need to buy new plates at a deputy registrar's office – doing this will make the stolen plates no longer valid. It'll cost $6 for the new plates, plus a $10 filing fee to get license plates with the same expiration date as the plates that were stolen.

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