After getting her license plates stolen, a local woman started getting mystery parking tickets, and then she unraveled a complex ring of stolen license plates being slapped on stolen cars.

Some San Francisco criminals get pretty aggressive if you try to take a picture of the license plate of the vehicle being used in a crime, because that license plate information could identify them and help law enforcement track them down. But apparently some other San Francisco criminals don’t have that problem. They merely steal other cars’ license plates and slap them onto their stolen cars!

We learn of this not through police work, but through a KPIX story of a San Francisco woman who tracked down her stolen license plate and found it on a stolen car of the exact same make and color. The license plate theft scheme may seem savvy, but the criminals made one mistake  — they racked up a bunch of parking tickets and street cleaning tickets, which told the victim Katie Lyons exactly where the vehicle was sitting. She promptly located the car herself.

“It’s sophisticated – they stole a white Audi, they found a white Audi, stole the license plate, put it on a white Audi, and who knows what they’ve been doing with that white Audi,” Lyons told KPIX.

But police seem to have some idea what they’ve been doing with that white Audi. After Lyons contacted them, they found several tools and long screwdrivers that indicate a license plate theft operation inside the car. But more importantly, they also found the real owner of the stolen car, who’d had it ripped off at Ocean Beach in November.

“I think it’s indicative of the scale of the operation,” that Audi's owner Joe Hirasawa told KPIX. “It sounds like I suppose that if my car is the one that has the motherlode of tools to rob other people that did this, more power to them, I’d love to see it happen.”

And this may indeed unspool more crimes. KPIX notes that Lyons' stolen plate was on the rear of the car, and someone else’s different stolen plate was on the front of the car.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani rather inexplicably shows up at the end of the KPIX segment (the station describes Stefani as Lyons’ “friend”) and the supervisor offers her standard, not-so-vaguely Recall-Chesa-Boudin talking points. “I think that there’s a lack of accountability in this city and I think the criminals know it,” Stefani told KPIX. “The fact that there are often no consequences for these types of crimes is one of the reasons why they continue.”

This is part of the article where SFist normally pulls up San Francisco crime statistics to assess whether this or that kind of crime is really getting worse, and if so by how much. And while SFPD certainly keeps automobile theft crime data, this is the intermingling of two separate types of crime (the car and the license plates). So it’s hard to say the degree to which this scheme is being duplicated.

But we can at least point out the locations where the original car was stolen (Ocean Beach) and where the license plates were stolen (the Marina). And we’d encourage caution with your car or your plates in those areas.

Related: Tenderloin Suspect Racks Up 13th Vehicle Theft Arrest in Just 18 Months [SFist]

Image: Vauxford via Wikimedia Commons