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Understand the Legal Issues
The topic of whether it is permissible to search a plate number is complex. To give a few examples:
- Accessing private information of a person by searching his plate number records is illegal, according to some motor vehicle agencies -- regardless of the circumstances. Such information includes the plate holder's name, address, phone number and Social Security number.
- According to the Law Dictionary. accessing this information through the state’s motor vehicles agency is permissible. Since this information is public record, the Freedom of Information Act allows you to check the records for anyone you choose.
- Some states have noted that though a plate holder’s information is private, it can be accessed by certain businesses and agencies such as law enforcement officers, attorneys and insurance companies under compelling circumstances.
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Check the Motor Vehicles Agency
If you have a valid reason to check a plate number, such as after an accident. you can request the information from the state's motor vehicles agency. Accessing this information is free, but depending on the state, you may be charged a fee for the printout and mailing. Follow this simple procedure:
Step 1: File a request.
Prepare a formal request in writing or appear in person. If your reason is genuine:
- you will be required to fill out some forms to prove your address.
- you will need to declare that you understand the legal implications of accessing such private information.
Step 2: Receive feedback.
If your application is considered, the motor vehicles agency can react as follows:
- In most cases, the agency will never provide you with the address and contact information of the plate owner.
- The agency can provide you a sanitized record with clues about the owner -- such as the names of the owner and lien holders.
- Sometimes the agency can call and inform the plate owners that you’re looking for them.
Step 3: Take post-feedback actions.
If your request is declined:
- Ask to be provided with the reason for refusal in writing.
- Look for other options or means of getting the information you require.
Use Third-Party Websites
If the state’s motor vehicles agency cannot provide you with information about a car owner from its records, you may opt to check with third-party websites. Note that some -- but not many -- of these websites are free .
Some websites say they are free, but will actually charge you a fee and may provide you with outdated information -- or no information at all.
Before you decide to use a third-party website, understand how they operate:
- They collect information from sources such as vital statistics, courts, gas filling stations and insurance records -- and not necessarily from motor vehicle agency registries.
- The plate owner will not know you’re searching for him -- provided the reason why you’re looking for this information is not meant for harm or deprive the plate owner.
- If plate owner discovers that his information is accessible to the public and he does not want that, he can contact the website administrators and opt out.
- You may have to pay a subscription fee to access the database, which averages about $30 at the time of publication, depending on the report-access option you select. Most service providers say the cost is covers their time, expenses of data collection and server maintenance.
Before using a third-part website, obtain a Google safe-browsing report. For example, if you're checking a plate owner through the numberplateseek.com website, type: http://google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=numberplateseek.com . After you press "Enter," a report will open in the same window telling you if the website has been reported as suspicious.