Can Private Investigators Run License Plates? #141

People frequently ask if private investigators have access to databases or have access to information the general public does not have.  More specifically they wonder if private investigators have access to license plate information.  

Private investigators have the same access to information as the general public does in most cases.  In some cases we can have access to additional information depending on the state we are conducting searches in.

I truthfully do not know if private investigators in every state can run license plates or what type of access they have at all.  

License Plate Search
Photo: Josh Klute

I do know that sometimes specific databases will provide current and expired vehicle information for certain states when a specific person is searched for.  I can’t account for all the new databases that are providing information for private investigators as database providers come and go.

In the past when the company I worked for used Lexus Nexus vehicle information would come up for individuals in Wyoming.  I haven’t use Lexus Nexus in years so I don’t even know if they provide that type of information anymore.

In California (though I have never done this personally) there was the ability for investigators to run plate numbers and get the name of the registered owner.  I haven’t worked surveillance cases in California for many years so I don’t know what the process is for running plates these days.  I remember when I worked in California my bosses were hesitant to run too many plates for me because it would cost $10 a search.  Most of the time I identified the person I was conducting surveillance on through a physical pretext which made a surveillance more complicated than it needed to be.  But that is another story for another day.

In Oregon, private investigators do have the ability to run plate information though I don’t know what the specific process is for that anymore.

Running plate information for private investigators has changed a bit in Washington state since I have worked here.  It use to be that private investigators could run plates but a notice would be sent to the person who owned the vehicle.  The notice would provide the business name, address and phone number if I remember correctly of the company that ran the information.  As a result, private investigators would not use this when we were conducting surveillance unless we had to.  There were ways we could narrow down vehicles that were associated to people which worked well without running plate numbers.

The laws changed in Washington recently that if a plate number was run, a notice would be sent out to the owner of the vehicle but it would not provide the name of the company any longer which is a good thing.  I believe the allow the individual to find out what type of entity conducted the search (like attorney or private investigator).

I don’t have the need to run plate information to locate addresses associated to an individual very often. In cases where I do it is typically not associated to a surveillance.  Furthermore I do not resell information to other entities or private investigators. I generally only use plate information as a means of locating or identifying an individual.

Someday when I have more time I will dig into what each state provides to private investigators but until then just understand that private investigators pretty much have access to that information.  Again I can’t account for all states but generally speaking they do.

If you had this question I hope this provides some insight for you.