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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Police say stolen, sliced or illegally replaced license plates and tabs are a crime on the rise in the University area.

There have been 11 more incidents so far this year compared to the same time period last year.

Car owner Trajon Smith says someone replaced his current and valid license plate with one that's expired. He didn't notice until he loaded items into his car while helping his wife go to church.

Police reports show locations vary in the University area, but include parking lots, apartment complexes and cars parked on the street.

It's a free ride, said Hugh Jacobs, who owns Mallard Creek Classic Import. You know it happens.

It's why Jacobs doesn't keep dealer plates on his cars.

Because we know people will take them and we don't want to create that situation for them to cause trouble, he said.

Why the increase?

Police say one reason is North Carolina's Tag and Tax Together program, which started last year. It combined the cost of registration with vehicle property taxes and made it tougher for some to pay the bill.

Some people may not have enough money to pay the taxes and registration renewal at one time. They'll go take a tag off another vehicle like theirs. It buys them some extra time. Also, people who have stolen vehicles, they'll pick up a tag that's legitimate to mask the fact that their vehicle is stolen. And then you have other people who have no insurance, said CMPD Lt. Jim Morrison.

It has some folks in lockdown mode.

License plate lock screws were in such high demand the Advance Auto Parts store on Harris Boulevard that they ran out last week. They cost a couple bucks and it takes a special wrench to remove the screws and get to the license plate.

That's extra time and effort police say most thieves don't want to deal with.

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