Why are you calling?
November 29, 2016 9:33 PM   Subscribe

I just got a call a few minutes ago (10:20-ish pm) from a police officer asking what my license plate number was, regarding an accident I had back in October. I complied and gave him my license plate number, I didn't even think to ask why specifically and I've already forgotten what his name was. Now I'm sort of worried about the call.

Is was this normal? To call me so late at night? Did they just not record my license plate at the scene of the accident and he needed it for his paper work? Could it be about something else?!
posted by modesty.blaise to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say the simplest explanation is that the police officer needed your license plate number for the accident report, probably because he didn't write it down in the first place and someone (perhaps an involved insurance company) has requested the report and now he's trying to deal with that. He called kind of late because that's when he works or that's when he got around to it (if you're working at 10:20 at night, sometimes it's easy to forget that not everyone else is).

It is, of course, possible that it was someone else engaged in something more nefarious, but that seems rather unlikely. If the police department is small enough and you're super concerned about it, you could call them on their non-emergency line, explain the situation, and ask if it's possible to verify the call, but I really wouldn't worry about it. I can't imagine how someone who already knows your name, phone number, and that you were in an accident last month is going to do anything worse with your license plate number.

I've had similar calls (one kind of late in the evening) after witnessing accidents where they needed additional information for their reports and they were all legitimate.

In the future, if you're suspicious of such a call, you can always get the officer's name and call back using a number you look up yourself.
posted by zachlipton at 9:45 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

It smells funny, in that police have electronic access to DMV records, but off the top of my head I'm not sure what scam would ask you for your license plate number and nothing else.
posted by Candleman at 4:51 AM on November 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would definitely check with the police department, but it seems worth mentioning that sometimes scammers will request unimportant / useless information as a way of scoping out or priming a victim. Next week the officer rings back, "Oh, sorry to bother you again so late, it's Officer X, we need your social security number too." Once you've given one piece of information you're more likely to provide further information because you feel like he has already confirmed his identity with the first call (which he hasn't).

It's probably not that, but it's something to consider.
posted by matthew.alexander at 5:27 AM on November 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

Candleman: "It smells funny, in that police have electronic access to DMV records"

This was my intial thought however there are several reasonable reasons the cop may have called like his notes didn't match the record or the OP has several car registered or the OP lives in a jurisdiction that allows one to drive with either no registration or the previous owners registration for a period of time.
posted by Mitheral at 7:36 AM on November 30, 2016

As matthew.alexander points out, this could be a warm-up to scamming other personal info. On the other hand, it would be a really weird scam, involving gleaning names and contact info from accident reports to then start impersonating police officers. If you had an accident in October, and someone said "Hello, this is Officer Clark with Townville PD, and I'm calling regarding the traffic accident you reported October 19 at the intersection of Elm St. and 39th in Townville," then he's almost certainly legit. If he's Mr. Vague and asking you for the details instead of providing them himself, that could be cause for concern. "Hello, I'm calling from the police department about your traffic incident." (you: the accident in October?) "Yes, that's right, can you confirm that location?" (you: location) "Excellent, that matches my records - so we're filling out paperwork and the other thing I need from you is your plate number and a credit card." So long as they were calling with full knowledge of the event they were calling about I wouldn't be concerned.
posted by aimedwander at 3:45 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

You could call the police back and ask about it for your own peace of mind.
posted by bunderful at 6:25 PM on November 30, 2016

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