Dallas County Sheriff's deputies have a new warning for drivers: car thieves are getting smarter, and they're starting to come up with new ways to avoid getting caught by cameras and license-plate readers.
There have been a handful of these crimes over the last few weeks, according to the Sheriff's Department Auto Theft Task Force.
Crooks steal one license plate from a stranger's parked car and put it on their own.
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In most cases the crook is driving a rental car and is trying to keep the car for longer than they are legally permitted to, or they are attempting to steal the vehicle outright.
But recently, thieves are "shopping around" to steal the right kind of plate to avoid alerting law enforcement. They're stealing a plate from a car with the same make, model and color.
"My theory is they're trying to avoid detection," said Auto Theft Detective John Harris. "With battery-operated tools, this crime is over in five, 10 seconds. And they walk away with a plate."
Detectives with the Auto Theft Task Force say the goal is to fool red-light cameras and license-plate readers, and they want drivers to be on guard.
Harris says many drivers overlook a missing front license plate.
"Not everybody goes out in the morning and in the afternoon and makes sure both their plates are on there," said Harris. "Sometimes they don't notice it until they get a notice in the mail, say, from the toll authority, that you have unpaid toll fees."
Harris says there have been at least five such crimes in recent weeks, where the stolen tag matches the color and model of the rental vehicle.
"We're starting to see this trend happen, and it's amazing to us that they're doing it," he said. "Here lately, it seems to be picking up speed."
He said drivers of popular-model vehicles should immediately report to authorities if they notice a plate missing.