When was the last time you looked at your license plate? Would you know if crooks swapped it with a stolen plate?
Sometime between the first of the year and the end of January, someone switched plates on Orange County resident Anne Cass, running up
$120 in tolls and perhaps even more.
In early February, Cass received a letter from the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority informing her that her car had been photographed at several dozen toll plazas, but that the plazas had not registered her transponder.
The letter from
the Expressway Authority instructed her to come in and make sure her transponder was working correctly. It also included her bill for the tolls. That bill is what tipped Cass off that something was wrong.
In an average month, Cass racks up between $20 and $30 in tolls. The bill was almost six times what she spends.
Figuring the Expressway Authority had the wrong car, Cass asked for the photos from the toll plazas. What she received were pictures of her plate on another car.
“If you notice from the pictures, this Prius doesn’t have my tag holder on it,” said Cass. “I said, 'That’s my plate, but it’s not my car.'”
Someone had taken the plate off Cass’ white Toyota Prius,
replaced it with another stolen plate and then used her plate to cheat the system.
In the photos provided to Cass by the Expressway Authority, a white Toyota Prius is seen passing through the toll plazas, but unlike Cass’ car, the Prius in the pictures still has a dealer emblem on the left side. It was also missing her “Florida Mom” license plate holder and aftermarket bumper guard.
Cass immediately called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and reported her plate stolen, turning over to deputies the plate that the crooks had attached to her car.
Initially, the Expressway Authority told Cass that she was responsible for the tolls charged to the plate prior to her reporting it stolen. However, after Eyewitness News contacted the Expressway Authority, leaders reached out to Cass and forgave the $120 in tolls incurred by the driver who had stolen her plate.
“This incident certainly reaffirms that customers should always review any correspondence they may receive from E-PASS and contact us with any questions,” said Michelle Maikisch of the Expressway Authority.
“It happens enough that I see it in the courtroom,” said traffic attorney Albert Pucylowski. “I see people come in all the time with police reports and say
'this isn’t my tag.'”
In the last five years,
Florida has experienced an 18 percent increase in the number of license plates reported lost or stolen. Since plates can be used for tolls and are also the primary identification for red-light citations, crooks are targeting plates, creating a new form of identity theft.
“In the state of Florida, when you are assigned a tag, you are absolutely responsible for that tag,” said Pucylowski, who is currently defending a client
whose plate was stolen off an old truck and then used for months to rack up more than $1,000 in tolls before the plate was reported missing.