3 Benefits of a Docusearch License Plate Lookup

From time to time it might be necessary for you to do a license plate search to find information on an individual. Now, this can be for a variety of reasons including litigation or pre-litigation, debt recovery or fraud investigations, insurance claims investigations, and many more.

When looking for the right service provider to give you the information you need, you might be tempted to use one of the many services that offer unlimited license plate lookups that give you instant results. To lure you in even further, they typically also offer their services at a low access price or subscription fee.

However, this could be a mistake as these services have some serious limitations. The reason for this is that they simply don’t have access to accurate and current information because having this information would be illegal. Yet, despite this, they’re effective at marketing their services to the unsuspecting public.

The thing is, the information associated with a specific license plate number is protected by law and there are only a few instances in which this information can be obtained. And these online services simply don’t fall under these exceptions.

So, what should you consider when doing a license plate lookup? In this post, we’ll look at this question in more detail and show you the benefits of using a Docusearch license plate lookup.

Benefits of a Docusearch license plate lookup. 

Why Would You Need To Look Up a License Plate?

However, before looking at these aspects in more detail, we’ll first consider the circumstances in which you would typically need to do a license plate search. Generally, you’ll perform a license plate lookup to find a vehicle owner’s information including their name, address, or other details.

The most common reasons where you’ll need this information are:

  • Accidents and litigation. It often happens that parties to litigation need the information of a driver that was involved in an accident like, for instance, a hit-and-run. Quite simply, this information would then be necessary to track down the owner of the vehicle in order to take legal action or establish what assets they have.
  • Used car details. The owner’s details can also be helpful when buying a used car. By knowing the owner’s details, you can get some insights into a vehicle’s history. So, before buying the car, you could learn who owned it, for how long they owned it, whether it was in any accidents, or other relevant information.
  • Personal reasons. In some cases, you could want to look up a license plate to find the owner’s information for personal reasons. Here, there are a plethora of reasons why you would want this information.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that, generally speaking, the reason you want to do a search has an impact on whether the search will be legal. So, for example, searching for an owner’s details to track them down after an accident might be perfectly legal while trying to find the information of a driver that cut you off in traffic might not.

Is It Legal To Search for Someone Using a License Plate?

With that in mind, it’s time we look at whether it’s actually legal to do a license plate search to find a vehicle owner’s information. If you do a simple Google search, you’ll likely find contradicting information. For instance, according to dmv.org, it’s illegal to run a license plate on someone else, regardless of the circumstances and only a member of law enforcement can run a license plate to find the vehicle owner’s information.

In contrast, other sites say that you’re able to and it’s only legal to lookup license plate numbers in certain circumstances. And yet, others say it’s perfectly legal no matter what the situation. The common denominator here is that all these sites are run by private organizations, so it’s difficult to say who’s right and who’s wrong. To solve this problem, let’s look at what the law actually says.

Here, the relevant legislation is the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), a federal law that limits the release of personal information related to state DMV records without the express consent of the person involved. There are, however, certain exceptions that can be found in 18 U.S. Code § 2721 which provide that information can be disclosed:

  • For use by any government agency, including any law enforcement agency or court, in carrying out its functions.
  • For use in connection with matters of motor vehicle or driver safety and theft, motor vehicle emissions, motor vehicle product alterations, recalls or advisories, performance monitoring, motor vehicle parts and dealers, motor vehicle market research activities, including survey research, and removal of non-owner records from the original owner records of motor vehicle manufacturers.
  • For the use in the normal course of business by a legitimate business or its agents, employees, or contractors, but only to
    • verify the personal information of an individual.
    • obtain the correct information in the event the information is incorrect.
  • For use in connection with any civil, criminal, administrative, or arbitral proceedings in a federal, state, or local court or agency or body.
  • For use in research activities and producing statistical reports as long as personal information is not disclosed.
  • For use by any insurer in connection with claims investigation activities, antifraud activities, rating, or underwriting.
  • For use in providing notice to owners of towed or impounded vehicles.
  • For use by any licensed private investigative agency or licensed security service for any purpose allowed in the terms of the subsection.
  • For use by any employer or its agent or insurer to verify the information of any holder of a commercial driver’s license.
  • For use in connection with the operation of private toll transportation facilities.
  • For any use in response to requests for individual motor vehicle records if the State has obtained the express consent from the person who the information relates to.
  • For bulk distribution of surveys, marketing, or solicitations if the State has obtained the express consent of the person who the information relates to.
  • For use by any person who requests the information if they have obtained the express consent from the person who the information relates to.
  • For any other use specifically under the law of the State that holds the record if the use is related to the operation of a motor vehicle or public safety.

Considering the above, the key takeaway is that it’s completely legal to look up a license plate number to find information about an individual, provided that you do it for a permissible purpose.

Do “Free” License Plate Lookups Exist?

Now, if you’ve done some Google searches for license plate lookups, you’ve probably seen that multiple companies offer unlimited searches and promise to deliver the information you need instantly. In fact, about 95% of the companies you’ll find on Google will offer these types of services. So, now the immediate question is how this is possible? Let’s answer this question from the outset, it’s not.

The first problem is that these websites are some of the biggest scams out there and they don’t actually give you any information for free. What they do is market and advertise that their services are free. So, when you’re on their website, you’ll enter the license plate you’re looking for.

They’ll typically indicate that the information you’re looking for was found to lure you in. The thing is, you’ll then have to pay to get the information. If you fall for the marketing, you’ll then pay to get the data.

This brings up the second, more significant problem. The information you’ll get, if they have it, won’t be for the current owner or current vehicle. So, considering that the personal information of an individual relating to a specific license plate is private, how are they able to provide this information?

It’s quite simple actually. You see, the rules and exceptions described above relate to current information held by DMVs and not to historical information. So, when a State DMV considers their vehicle records outdated, they’ll sell the information to data aggregators or information brokers who collect this data in databases.

They’re then able to sell this information to the public. So, when you enter a license plate on their website and pay for the information, they’ll provide you with the historical information they purchased from the DMV. As a result, you’ll get the information of a vehicle that’s probably been sold to a new owner and a license plate number that’s now associated with another vehicle. In simple terms, you’ll get outdated information that’s not worth much.

Another problem is that the general public is simply unaware of the fact that they’re buying historical information and these aggregators don’t go out of their way to advertise this. You’ll typically need to take a closer look at their terms of service and legal disclaimer to discover this fact.

What About Subscription Services?

Subscription services are not much better than the data aggregators mentioned above. In fact, they could even be worse. This is simply because they use the same outdated, historical data but sell it to you on a more expensive, recurring basis.

To illustrate this better, let’s look at a simple example. Let’s say you’re looking for the owner’s information relating to a specific license plate number, and you go to a subscription service’s website. You enter the license plate number, and the site informs you that the information has been found.

The site will then, like the process described above, ask you to pay to get the information and will usually lure you in with a very low price. However, this price is only for the initial trial period and after that, you’ll be billed up to $25 per month even if you don’t use the service. That, in a nutshell, is their business model – to sell you access to outdated information and continually charge you for it while making it extremely difficult to cancel the subscription.

And like other data aggregators, you’ll get no guarantee that the information you’ll get is accurate. In fact, it’s more likely that it won’t be.

The Docusearch Difference

Now that we’ve looked at data aggregators and subscription services, it’s time to see the difference when looking up license plate information using Docusearch. Unlike the companies described above, Docusearch doesn’t aggregate any data. In other words, we don’t get vast amounts of data from the DMV and store it in our local databases.

We are licensed private investigators and have access to all 38 State DMVs that allow access to vehicle registration information. This means we perform every search manually directly from the DMVs information. This presents you, the customer, with several advantages:  

  • Accuracy. By having access to real-time, up-to-date information, the data we provide is far more accurate compared to that of data aggregators and subscription services. In fact, there’s no comparison when it comes to accuracy. This means that you’ll get the current information relating to a specific license plate. We’ll deal with the information you’ll get in more detail hereinbelow.
  • Price. Are we more expensive than data aggregators or subscription services? Yes, we are. But it’s about more than price and it’s more about the value you’ll get for the price you pay. So, for example, a service that uses a historical database might charge less, but you’ll get outdated data that’s worth nothing. Also, we charge you only for the search you need and there are, therefore, no recurring payments or subscription fees you’ll need to pay. Considering that the average cost for a Docusearch license plate lookup is $39 and the fact that you’ll get the most current information, it’s a good deal.
  • Speed. Because we perform every search manually and don’t look up information in a database, we’re not able to provide the instant results that service providers using historical databases promise. Despite this, we’re still able to deliver the results quickly. In fact, most often, we’re able to give you the information you need in less than an hour.

What Information Will You Get Using a Docusearch License Plate Lookup?

Generally, when using a licensed investigator like Docusearch, you can expect to get the following information from a license plate lookup:

  • Vehicle information. You’ll typically get a full description of the vehicle the license plate number is associated with and be able to see whether the license plate matches the information on record. This information includes VIN, plate, year, make, model, and more.
  • Current owner’s name. You’re able to find the name of the current owner of the vehicle.
  • Current owner’s address. You’re able to find the current owner’s address. (Except CA and OR)
  • Lienholder’s name and address. If the vehicle is financed, you’ll be able to find the lienholder’s (legal owner) name and address if it’s available.

It’s important to keep in mind that some states have laws and regulations restricting some of the information you’ll be able to obtain. For instance, as mentioned above, 12 states don’t allow any access to vehicle registration information, not even to licensed private investigators. The key, however, is that, when getting information using Docusearch, you’ll get information that’s up to date and current.

Who To Avoid

Considering the above, it’s easy to see why not all license plate lookup services are the same. So, to sum up, generally, when looking for a license plate lookup service, you’ll find that they fall into one of three categories:

  • Subscription services. As mentioned earlier, subscription services make up about 95% of the companies that offer license plate lookup services to the public. They typically offer unlimited searches that give you instant results, all for the payment of a small fee. Remember, there’s no such thing as instant results when it comes to reverse searches on license plates. Despite this, as mentioned, they lure you into paying a monthly subscription even if you don’t use the service and are only able to give you outdated, historical information or links to other sites. For example, freebackgroundcheck.org is just an affiliate site for infotracer.com.
  • Information brokers. These providers typically buy outdated information that’s at least several years old from proprietary sources. Despite this, through effective marketing, they offer you instant access to up-to-date information. The result is that they’ll take your money and provide something of little to no value. Another strategy these providers often use is offering a full refund if they don’t deliver a record. The catch? They do deliver a record even though it’s completely outdated and useless.
  • Licensed private investigators. If you want the best service and the most up-to-date information, it’s vital that you use a licensed private investigator like Docusearch. Being licensed means they’re regulated by state agencies and they’re one of the organizations that can legally obtain vehicle registration information.

Apart from this, it’s also clear that there are many scams out there that will just take your money and give you nothing in return. So, you should do your best to avoid them. The problem is that it’s not always possible to spot a scam because they’re so effective at hiding it.

Fortunately, we’re here to help. So, we’ll look at some tips you can use to find the right service provider when you want to find the information associated with a specific license plate.

Check Their Contact Details

One of the first ways to identify a possible scam site is to check the website for contact details. Simply put, if you’re unable to contact the provider and speak to a human agent, it’s more than likely a scam site that wants to take your hard-earned money or an affiliate front for a subscription service.

So, if, during your research, you come across a site that promises license plate lookups but doesn’t have any contact details listed, it’s best to steer clear of it as far as possible. And no, an email address doesn’t count as contact details.

Check Their Offering

Keep in mind that having contact details listed on their site isn’t a surefire way to tell that a license plate lookup provider is reputable. So, if there are contact details listed, you’ll have to dig a little deeper.

Here, it might be worth your while to do a little experimenting. So, for example, let’s look at Search Quarry, a popular license plate lookup website. On its homepage, you’ll find a search box where you can type a query. Just above the search box, there are a few tabs where you’ll need to select the License Plate tab.

When you do, you’ll be shown a warning box that tells you that you’re only able to perform license plate lookups for one or more approved purposes. We’ll forget about the warning for a moment, and you can close it.

Now, in the search box, enter a fictional license plate number. In our example, we’ll use “ABC123”. You’ll also need to select the State you want to use in your search. Here, we’ll use Georgia as our chosen State. Once you’ve entered these, you can click on SEARCH. The system will then work its magic while it searches for the information you want.

On the results page, you’ll see that your search was successful and that it even found the make, model, and year of the vehicle associated with the license plate number. Fantastic, right? More importantly, though, the results page also shows you what you need to pay to activate your account and get the results.

For instance, for this report, you’ll pay either $35.40 for a 1-year unlimited subscription, $16.78 for the single report, or $5.05 for a 7-day trial. If you choose the trial, you’ll pay $24.95 per month after the trial is over.

Now, apart from the pricing, there are several problems with the results. The first is obviously that we used a fake license plate number, so there can’t be any vehicle associated with this number. The second is that Georgia is one of the 12 States that don’t provide any access to vehicle registration information, so the platform is simply unable to obtain any details for the number, even if it was valid.

Ultimately, through the marketing on its website, the platform lures you into paying for something that simply doesn’t exist.

Are Their Results Instant?

Another aspect that stands out from the example above, is that the results are instant. And, as we’ve stated before, there’s no such thing as instant results when it comes to license plate lookups. To confirm, you could also try this test on many of the other services like Search Quarry and your result will likely be the same.

Combined, the fact that the results are instant and the promise of results for a registration number that doesn’t exist shows that these are not reputable service providers and that you should steer clear of them.

Read the Fine Print

When deciding on the right service provider, it’s also necessary to look at the fine print on its website or terms and conditions of use. It’s often in the fine print that you’ll find that it’s likely that the information you’ll be provided with might not be accurate.

To illustrate the point, we’ll once again look at Search Quarry as an example. On its website, if you look past the marketing hype and scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll find the following:

Please be aware that the information obtained using SearchQuarry.com searches may not always be accurate and up to date as we do not create, verify, or guarantee the accuracy or the amount of information provided through our service. Data availability is largely dependent on various public sources from which the information is aggregated.

This is a clear indication that the information you’re provided with may not be accurate or current. As further confirmation, the platform’s terms of service provide that:

Information is sourced from records made freely and publicly available by state and local offices, agencies, or departments, and that this data may contain errors and omissions. We do not guarantee that Information is current or accurate,

This also indicates that the information might contain inaccuracies and that the platform provides no guarantee as to the accuracy of the data. It also shows that the platform uses public information made available by state and local offices and, because vehicle registration details are not public, this is not what they distribute.

Check Their Pricing

Another way to identify these sites is to look at their pricing. Here, you’ll typically also need to do some digging as their pricing is not always clearly advertised. You’ll also see their pricing when you’ve done a search and you need to pay to see the results.

Some terms you need to look out for include “Free Trial”, “1-Year Unlimited Access”, “30-Day Unlimited Access Pass”, and so on. What they actually do is use clever marketing to convince you to sign up for a subscription you don’t need to find the information you’re looking for.

To do this they use several different strategies. For one, they make their pricing seem very cheap. Sure, it may sound cheaper than a licensed private investigator, but the subscription adds up and before you know it, you’ll be paying more than you would have. So, in simple terms, license plate searches on these websites aren’t nearly as cheap as they make them out to be.

The second strategy is giving you “unlimited” access when you subscribe. Yes, you’ll get unlimited access, but the unsuspecting public doesn’t know that they’ll get unlimited access to information so old it’s worthless.

As mentioned earlier, Docusearch charges a one-time fee for every search it performs and, although it’s more expensive than these platforms, the accuracy of the results is guaranteed.

Check User Reviews

Another dead giveaway that a platform is not a reputable service provider, is that they don’t have any user reviews available. Sure, some of them might have user reviews on their website, but we’re not referring to fictional quotes posted on their website’s pages.

We’re referring to actual customer reviews of their service. The reason most of these platforms don’t have these reviews is because, in reality, most customers end up being extremely dissatisfied with the service and the accuracy of the results they’ve received.

Unlike these platforms, Docusearch has hundreds of customer reviews available that are free for anyone to see.

Only Use Reputable, Licensed Investigative Firms

In the end, the only solution to avoid service providers who are not reputable and do not provide accurate license plate lookup information is by using a licensed investigative firm like Docusearch. Think of it this way, you wouldn’t use an unlicensed, uninsured roofing contractor to fix your roof, so why would you use one when you need to find information.

Licensed investigative firms are regulated and must answer to government agencies and are also bonded and/or insured. More importantly, though, is that agencies like Docusearch have access to information other platforms like subscription services and information brokers simply don’t.

As a result, you’re guaranteed that the information you receive will be up-to-date, accurate and you won’t be scammed out of your money or into paying for something you don’t need.

The Bottom Line

When you want to reverse a license plate, it’s crucial that you find the right service provider and avoid paying for information that is extremely outdated and worthless. Ultimately, if you don’t, you’ll end up paying for something you don’t need or can’t use.

Hopefully, this post helped illustrate some of the things you should look out for when you want to look up a license plate. To learn more about Docusearch, our services, and how we can help you with license plate searches, visit our website for more details. With almost 25 years of experience, we’re able to perform a variety of investigative searches, both online and off, and provide you with results that are accurate and current.

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