SAN ANTONIO — A heads up to drivers: car thieves are taking license plates and switching them with stolen ones.
It’s all in an effort to shift suspicion onto someone else, according to the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD).
“This is not a new crime,” said Sgt. Washington Moscoso. “In fact, this has been happening for a long time.”
However, this type of theft often flies under the radar.
A San Antonio woman shared her story with KENS 5 to spare others from ending up in a similar situation.
“That’s what I was scared of; that I was going to go to jail for someone else’s crime,” said Courtney Wingo, “even though I had done nothing wrong.”
Earlier this month, Wingo drove to Alabama to help a family member move. Halfway through her trip, though, she says she was pulled over.
“I was very confused because I wasn’t speeding, I wasn’t on my phone,” she said. “So, I am getting my driver’s license and insurance thinking maybe a light is out or something. Then the officer comes on the loudspeaker saying, ‘I need you to step out of the vehicle. Driver, I need you to step out of the vehicle.’ It was, ‘Arms down, palms up.’”
The officer had run the license plate and it came back as stolen. That’s when Wingo realized it wasn’t her plate. She said the officer was able to confirm her ownership through her Vehicle Identification Number.
“The cop was like, ‘I have to take this plate since you have no other plate, we have to tow your vehicle,’” Wingo said.
Wingo told KENS 5 she was stranded in Louisiana for five hours and spent hundreds of dollars on impound fees and a temporary tag.
Wingo’s license plate was taken in San Antonio, possibly on the northwest side.
Local resident, Betti Cardenas, says hers was taken while she was in New York.
“What if it’s associated with a drive by or a murder or something awful like that?” Cardenas asked.
Both drivers said they reported their plates as stolen. That’s exactly what police encourage victims to do.
“The reason that offenders do this, the majority of the time, is to conceal the identity of a vehicle they are going to use the license plate on,” said Sgt. Moscoso.
Sgt. Moscoso says car thieves typically scout large parking lots, looking for a similar make and model of a stolen vehicle.
“If you see someone taking a license plate off another vehicle, that’s not something you see every day,” said Sgt. Moscoso. “Call it in. Do that person a favor.”
Anti-theft screws are a cheap prevention method. They are removed with a specific Allen Wrench, and most sets cost under $10. Sgt. Moscoso says the screws deter thieves looking for a quick grab.
Authorities also recommend parking in well-lit, gated or high-traffic areas. It’s a good idea to a picture of your license plate or memorize it. If you notice it’s been switched, don’t drive anywhere. Make a police report and order a replacement.