License Plate Search FAQ's -- All of the Answers You Need!
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If you’re not a licensed private investigator or a member of law enforcement, you probably have no idea how a legitimate license plate lookup works. That’s OK! We’ve answered all of your burning questions so that you end up with search results that you can actually use.
1. Is it legal for me to order a license plate search?
We get this question a lot. Most resources will incorrectly advise you that only law enforcement agencies are permitted to search license plates. While a permissible purpose is required, it is completely legal for a private citizen to look up a license plate.
2. What kind of information can you get with a license plate number?
More than you think!
Assuming you’ve got the right expert doing the searching, there’s a lot of information that you can get. For starters, you’ll get details about the car the plate is registered to — including the make, model, year, and whether or not the car has any liens attached to it.
From there, you’ll also get information about the registered owner of the car — including his full name and address*.
*California is the exception as no address is provided by state law.
3. Is this information current?
Yes, but there’s a catch!
If you’ve hired a licensed private investigator to handle your license plate lookup, he’ll get all of his information straight from the DMV. That means you’ll have access to all of the same up-to-the-minute information that your state officials do.
But if you don’t hire a licensed private investigator, there’s no telling how outdated your license plate search results will be! That’s because the DMV records are only accessible to two groups of people — law enforcement and licensed private investigators. Unfortunately, the vast majority of license plate lookup websites you see advertised don’t have the proper credentials to get into the current DMV records.
4. What do they give you instead?
Since they can’t get their hands on the current information, these license plate search websites settle for buying old records. Unfortunately, these records are usually several YEARS out of date! Even worse, these websites don’t make it clear that they’re handing over old information. As a result, you may take it and make important decisions based off of something that’s completely inaccurate!
5. What about those “instant searches” that you see advertised everywhere? Do those websites have access to the DMV’s records?
In fact, the word “instant” is a tell-tale sign that you’re dealing with a license plate search scam. In order to provide instant results, all of the information already has to exist on the website’s server. (That’s the ONLY way they can spit out information in the time it takes you to click your mouse.) Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing how long it has been since that server was updated.
And even if the website updates its server on a regular basis, unless the people working there have a private investigator’s license, they’ll never be able to update their server with current, official DMV records.
6. How do these websites get away with providing old, outdated information?
They cross their fingers and hope that you don’t know anything about the license plate search industry! If you know who does — and who doesn’t — have access to the DMV’s records, you know that the claims they make in their fancy sales copy are all bogus.
Oftentimes, the real story is lurking in the website’s fine print. We actually logged onto a few license plate lookup websites and discovered that they actually admit that their information is inaccurate!
For example, when we visited Everify.com, the Terms of Service said, “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.”
SearchQuarry.com had similar Terms of Service — “Please be aware that the information obtained using SearchQuarry.com 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, most people never see this fine print because they don’t know to look for it. They simply see promises of instant license plate search results and move forward without giving it a second thought.
7. What about the websites that promise free license plate lookups? Is that another bogus promise?
Many of these websites will allow you to type a license plate number into their search box for free. But when you actually want to see the search results, you’ll be forced to pay. And many times, these fees are quite high. Some websites will even make you sign up for an expensive monthly subscription before they’ll let you see your search results!
8. What about the websites that promise “unlimited access” to their databases?
This is another bogus promise for two reasons. First, their database is useless if it doesn’t contain current information from the DMV. Second, this “unlimited access” typically comes with strings attached — in the form of pricey subscriptions and other hidden fees.
9. Does that take long?
No. Good investigators know how to work quickly without cutting any corners. (In fact, here at Docusearch, we have direct access to 37 state DMV’s and can typically get your results to you within one business day, some in mere hours!)
10. How much does it cost to have a license plate lookup done by a licensed investigator?
Less than you might think!
Reputable investigators will charge you a one-time fee before they start working. From there, you won’t be asked to pay anything else, and you’ll never be surprised with hidden fees. Most state cost only $39 per plate.