License Plate Lookup: The Untold Story

If you’ve jotted down someone’s license plate number, there’s a lot you can do with it — IF you know how the license plate lookup process works.  If you don’t, there’s a good chance that you will fall victim to sales copy that makes promises it can’t actually keep and even scams that were created solely to take your hard-earned money.

First things first, what kind of information SHOULD you get from a license plate search?

Assuming the people doing it are legitimate, you can get up-to-date information about the vehicle’s registered owner — including his full name and address.  You’ll also get the vehicle’s make, model, and year.  And, you’ll find out if the vehicle in question has any liens associated with it.  All of this information will come from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, so you can rest easy knowing that it’s correct and current.

But — and this is a big but — the only people who have access to these details are law enforcement and licensed private investigators with a permissible purpose.   Unless the license plate lookup service you choose is run by one of those two groups, you’re not going to get your hands on any of the information we just talked about.

License Plate Search: What will the scam artists give you instead?

They’ll make all kinds of great promises.  Odds are, they’ll brag about being able to give you instant results.  In many cases, they’ll even promise to give you free search results.  Unfortunately, none of those promises are accurate.  Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  And it definitely is in this case!

Let’s start with the “instant results” promise.

When you know exactly how the license plate search process works, you know that the word “instant” is no different than a neon sign that says, “Out-of-date!”  Here’s why:

In order to spit out details instantly, all of the information has to already exist on the website’s server.  There’s no time to request the registration from the state when you’re promising instant information!  As a result, it’s impossible for the information you get from one of these instant license plate searches to be current.  For all you know, they haven’t updated their server in years!

And, remember, your searcher needs to either be a member of law enforcement or have a private investigator’s license to have access to the information in the first place.  Since most of the license plate search websites out there AREN’T run by private investigators or law enforcement, they won’t be able to give you the important details that you need, no matter how recently they’ve updated their server.  Because they don’t have direct access to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ records, they can’t give you any of the official details — instantly or not!

License Plate Lookup: What will you get instead?

Talk to the Department of Motor Vehicles in ANY state, and they’ll tell you that the only thing they will sell to someone without a license is old records that don’t contain accurate ownership names and addresses.  That means these websites can only get their hands on old, outdated information that the Department of Motor Vehicles admits is inaccurate.  Typically, the information that the Department of Motor Vehicles provides to these websites is three to five years old.

Yes, these websites know they’ve got inaccurate information.  However, they’ll work hard to make sure that YOU don’t find out!

We actually did our own search on a license plate lookup website — a site called Search Quarry — and found a very important bit of information buried in the teeny-tiny fine print.  Specifically, it said, “Please be aware that the information obtained using 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.”

Unfortunately, they’re not the only website that has a disclaimer like this.  In its fine print, Verispy says that it does not provide “any non-publicly available information”.  In other words, they can only turn over information that’s available to the general public.  Forget having access to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ databases; they can’t give you anything that you can’t go find yourself!

And if you dig through the Terms of Services on, you’ll see a term that states, “You agree and understand that the availability of a search report does not necessarily mean that the report will yield correct results, relevant results, or any results at all.”


The only reason that we were able to find this information is because we knew to look for it.  Most people who log onto these websites don’t know that they’re supposed to dig for the real story.  Because they don’t know all of the ins and outs of a legitimate license plate search, they don’t know that there’s a potential problem.  They simply look at the fancy sales copy — and avoid the boring fine print — and assume that the information they’ve paid for is legitimate.  They may then turn around and base important decisions off of information that’s wrong!

Scary, huh?

Unfortunately, a bogus license plate lookup service can get a whole lot scarier when your wallet gets involved.  Most people don’t realize this until it’s too late, but those free search results aren’t really free after all.

The promise of free searches is simply another myth that these websites have created to grab your attention.  But, again, if you read through the fine print, you’ll see the real story.  In many cases, it’s free to physically type a license plate number into the search box.  And, of course, you’ll instantly see a pop-up that says your report is ready.  However, when it’s time to actually see the search results, you’ll be forced to pay a fee or sign up for an expensive monthly subscription.

Other websites aren’t quite as bold.  Instead of promising free searches, they come out and say that you’ll have to pay a small fee for their service.  Then, they’ll point out that their service is so cheap that you can’t afford NOT to take advantage of it.  It’s a classic pressure tactic used in sales to get you to agree before you have a chance to really think about it.  However, after promising you cheap results, the vast majority of these websites will turn around and hit you with hidden fees and expensive subscriptions later.

Bottom line — in the license plate search world, “free” and “cheap” simply don’t exist!

OK, so what about those websites that promise you “unlimited access” to their databases?  Are they any better than the scammers we’ve talked about?

Once again, their promises are nothing more than shifty sales copy.  What these websites fail to mention is that their database is full of old, inaccurate records because they don’t have the credentials to get anything current from the Department of Motor Vehicles.  You may get unlimited access to more information than you could have ever imagined, but all of it will be outdated and wrong!  In the end, you won’t actually be able to take any action based on the information that you’ve been given.

Adding insult to injury, you’ll typically be asked to sign up for an expensive subscription plan in exchange for this unlimited access.  It’s a great deal for the people who run the website.  They get a bunch of money from you, and all they have to do is pass along some garbage information that they scooped up years ago!

So how much should you expect to pay for a legitimate license plate search?

The true professionals will have you pay a one-time fee, before any of the work is done.  Legitimate licensed professionals won’t resort to the tricks and bogus promises that you see in big, bold letters elsewhere.  They won’t surprise you with any hidden fees after the work has been done.  Instead, they’ll explain everything simply and clearly, without you having to search through endless fine print to try and uncover the real story.

Even better — they’ll do all of the searching by hand.

Instead of relying on servers, automated data aggregation tools, and instant promises, licensed professionals will go into the Department of Motor Vehicles’ current records and search for the most up-to-date information.  Then, they’ll take what they find and put everything together in a comprehensive, easy-to-understand report for you.  As a result, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve got details that are current and completely accurate.

How long does all of that take?

While a legitimate license plate search can’t be done instantly, it can be done quickly.  The true professionals know how to work as quickly as possible, without sacrificing the quality of your results.  For example, here at Docusearch, most of our searches can be completed in one business day.  As you might expect, different states have different protocols for their DMV records, so the exact time it takes (and the exact dollar amount it will cost you) will depend on the specific state records you need us to access.

But don’t worry, there’s no confusing fine print here!  We make all of the details easily-accessible on our website so that you have all the answers before you spend a single cent!  In most cases, you’ll pay around $40, and you’ll get your answers the next day.  Our team is licensed to run direct license plate searches in 37 states.

Bottom line — information is power.  Now that you know what goes into a successful license plate lookup, you won’t be tricked into wasting your valuable time and money with the bogus services.

Additional Resources:
License Plate Lookup – How to Search License Plate Numbers Online
License Plate Lookup Scam Alert — Always Read the Fine Print!
DPPA Permissible Purpose

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