How to protect your car from number plate theft

Number plate theft is a growing concern for vehicle owners. In fact, according to Neighbourhood Watch Victoria, they are the number one item stolen from cars. There are around 20,000 number plate thefts reported in Victoria each year – that’s more than 55 a day. 

Why are number plates being stolen?

People steal number plates for various reasons, often related to criminal activities and evasion of law enforcement. Stolen plates can be used to hide the identity of vehicles involved in illegal acts, such as robberies, burglaries, or drug trafficking. Additionally, thieves might use these plates to avoid traffic fines and toll charges or to steal petrol.

According to Gold Coast police superintendent Geoff Sheldon, registration plates have also become the most stolen item from cars in South-East Queensland. Thieves often target cars of a similar make and model as their own, to really sell the disguise. 

“A lot of [stolen] cars basically get false plates put on them,” Mr Sheldon said.

“Say they’ve got a [stolen] Haval that’s blue – if they see another blue Haval left on its own somewhere, they’ll take those number plates.

“They try and match it in to give themselves a bit of extra cover.”

In many cases, CCTV cameras, video recognition technology (often found on toll roads) or vigilant bystanders catch an offender’s number plate and send it to the police. If stolen plates are on the car at the time of the offence, any fees and fines will go to the registered owner instead of the actual offender. These fines often arrive weeks after the offence occurred, meaning police have a much harder time identifying the perpetrator. 

How to prevent number plate theft

Invest in anti-theft screws 

To fortify your license plates, consider investing in anti-theft one-way screws. These specially designed screws have unconventional shapes, making it extremely difficult for thieves to remove the plates without the appropriate tools. While not completely foolproof, they serve as an effective deterrent, as they significantly increase the effort and time required to steal the plates. One-way screws can be found at your local hardware store. They only cost a few dollars, and a standard flat-bladed screwdriver will secure them to your car in a couple of minutes.

Obscure your number plates online

Number plate theft isn’t confined to physical removal alone. Thieves can also virtually steal or clone number plates by seizing the information from online listings, such as those on car marketplace websites. They acquire the details and subsequently print the plate on specialised laminated paper, which they use to cover their own number plates on a comparable vehicle.

A free online photo editor and a few seconds of your time can solve this. Just find one with an image-blurring tool in its pool of effects. 

Start or join a neighbourhood watch

Having more than one pair of eyes goes a long way in protecting your local area. Joining a neighbourhood watch can be a proactive and effective way to contribute to your community’s safety and security. By becoming a member, you not only help to deter crime but also foster a sense of unity and cooperation among your neighbours. Plus, vigilance can prevent more than just stolen number plates.

Park in safe areas

Whenever possible, park your car in well-lit and high-traffic areas. Thieves are less likely to target vehicles parked in areas where they can be easily spotted or caught. Opt for secure parking lots or designated parking spaces that are well-monitored, as these locations offer a heightened level of security against unlawful activities. At home, park in a locked garage, or at least in your driveway rather than on the street. Thieves are opportunistic, so they’re less likely to walk onto your property. 

What to do if you are a victim of number plate theft

Police say if you discover your plates are stolen, the first thing you should do is report the theft to police and note the report number.

Making authorities aware that your plates could be being used illegally helps them get a head start on criminals and protects you from being charged for any offences they commit.

Replacing a set of number plates can cost anywhere between $40 and $300 depending on the type of plates you have and whether they’re general issue, personalised, special interest or slimline plates.

General issue plates reported as stolen cannot be reissued – you’ll be given a new number plate with a different rego number. This means you’ll have to advise your insurance company, roadside assistance and toll road operators of your new registration details.

Also, factor in the unexpected traffic camera fines and road tolls that thieves might clock up using your stolen plates. You’ll have to spend some time trying to have them reversed.

Have you been a victim of number plate theft? Did you receive any fees or fines? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: How to put the brakes on car costs

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.


  1. No theft as such but although I don’t use toll roads very often I usually receive a scam text claiming an unpaid toll when I do. This might suggest the toll system is being hacked as it only occurs when I use a toll road. I’d be interested to know if other members experience this same issue?

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