• License plate swap from stolen vehicle has Ballard neighbors warning you to check your plates

    By: Deedee Sun

    Updated:

    SEATTLE - A theft in Ballard went unnoticed for days. Tom Trombly’s license plates were stolen near NW 77th Street and 11th Ave NW and swapped out with other plates from a stolen car. He drove around for days without even noticing.

    Now he's telling neighbors to check their vehicles.

    Trombly was getting his Volkswagon ready for a road trip Labor Day weekend. 

    “I roll up to the gas station to fill up, and as I fill up I decided to look around the car,” Trombly said. 

    That’s when he noticed something wrong during that pre-trip check.

    “I looked down on the back plate and noticed the vanity was gone, and then I noticed that that wasn't my plate,” Trombly said.

    Someone had swapped both his license plates with ones off a stolen vehicle. 

    “I was really surprised,” Trombly said. 

    He commutes over the 520 bridge every day and was able to work with GoodToGo to figure out when the crime happened.

    “Going home Wednesday night, I had the old plate, and into work Thursday morning I had the new plate. So I was driving around on stolen plates for about two days, and I'm really lucky I didn't get pulled over,” Trombly said.

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    The Seattle Police Department says the stolen plates came off a similar Volkswagon hatchback. 

    Criminals stole that car from downtown Seattle the same night someone swapped those plates with Trombly’s.   

    “It happened to me. It can happen to anyone,” Trombly said. “Check your plates, folks.”

    Data from Seattle police show license plate thefts are starting to go down.

    With 470 reported cases so far this year, 2018 is on track to hit a three-year low. 2017 had 859 license plate theft cases, and 2016 had 924, according to SPD.

    But police say making anything more difficult to steal is always a good idea.

    The owner of Stoneway Hardware in Ballard is no stranger to customers coming in with that problem.

    “They (suspects) picked up the license plate here and same day went to Portland and robbed a bank. So he was in here looking for security screws,” said Rory Rutledge, who owns Stoneway Hardware. 

    There are many options, but basically the head shape of the screw is different, so you need a special tool to get it off. 

    “It's got a little button in the middle of it,” Rutledge said. “And this one is hex drive.”

    Trombly said he's planning to get some of the tamper-resistant screws for his new plates.  

    “If I can slow them down, maybe they'll move to the next white Volkswagen,” Trombly said. 

    SPD said license plate thefts might be going down because they've gotten better at tracking them so it's a less lucrative crime. 

    Criminals stealing your whole car is much more common. 

    About 2,200 vehicles have been stolen in Seattle so far this year – 4.7 times the number of cases where only the plates were taken.

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