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My licence plate was stolen. Why would someone steal a licence plate? And what should I do? – Sarah, Toronto

The plate truth about licence plate theft: there's no one reason why plates are stolen, Toronto Police said.

"There are as many reasons as you can fathom," said Const. Clint Stibbe, with Toronto Police traffic services. "I think the economic times will cause it to become more common."

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A spike in plate theft in Calgary last year reflected a spike in vehicle theft, police there said.

"Often what will happen is offenders will steal a vehicle, or have a vehicle that they are going to steal in mind, and then go and steal a plethora of plates to go on it so they can keep swapping the plates out to keep it fresh and drive that vehicle longer, " Staff Sgt. Kristie Verheul, with the Calgary Police economic crimes unit told CBC News.

Plates may also get pilfered by someone who can't get current registration because they don't have insurance – so they takes a plate with somebody else's stickers so they won't get pulled over by police.

Stibbe says it's not just stolen plates – people are making their own.

A Hamilton couple kept getting parking tickets in downtown Toronto – even though they don't park on the street. It turned out another car was using fake plates with their number, Stibbe said.

"(Parking enforcement) street sweepers aren't looking at the make and model of the car – they're looking at licence plate," Stibbe said.

Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO) said the number of stolen plates wasn't available.

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"The (MTO) is not aware of any issue with stolen plates," a spokesman said in an e-mail.

But Stibbe said in Toronto last year, there were more than 1,000 tickets for "plate not authorized" – where a car has the wrong plate.

"That doesn't mean they were all stolen," he said. "Somebody could have switched the plates between their own vehicles and not reported it."

If you see that your plates are stolen, you need to report it, Stibbe said.

Then, you'll have to go to a ServiceOntario location to get a new licence plate – with a new number.

The cost? $57 for a normal plate, and $99 for a personalized plate.

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"For stolen personalized licence plates, a set of regular plates at no charge will be issued to use on your vehicle until the personalized plates are replaced," The MTO said. "You must wait six months before the stolen personalized plates can be replaced."

Could you get someone else's tickets – say for red light cameras?

"They do run the make and model," Stibbe said. "So if they see there's a blue Hyundai and it's supposed to be a white Volkswagen, whether they'd issue a tag or not, I don't know."

Anyone found with a stolen plate would be arrested and face theft charges, Stibbe said.

"There's no reason for you to have my licence plate," Stibbe said.

You can buy locking screws for licence plates – but really, if somebody wants to steal them, they will, Stibbe said.

"People should be regularly checking their cars – there's nothing stopping someone from stealing a licence plate," he said.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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