It is generally illegal for anyone other than a member of law enforcement to run a license plate check on someone else. However, permission to do so is granted for reasons of motor vehicle or driver safety and theft.
Vehicle records access is governed by the Federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act in the United States. The act is a federal statute that controls the disclosure of public records gathered by state Departments of Motor Vehicles. Government agencies also grant access to view this information, for removal of non-owner records and for businesses to verify personal information. State laws have their own permissions as well.
It is illegal to obtain driver records for unlawful reasons and it constitutes a criminal act to do so. Most websites that offer license plates lookups are scams and have fine print that detail their true intentions. The DMV does not sell registration records, which is protected information available only to licensed private investigators and law enforcement.
Reputable websites sponsored by states that offer such information do exist, but need to be analyzed carefully for authenticity. They generally cost between $35 and $45 for a license plate lookup. Docusearch Investigations is a verified company that provides license plate information with a single fee per lookup.