He tried to prank the DMV. Then his vanity license plate backfired big time.

Everyone hates parking tickets. Not everyone, however, is an information security researcher with a mischievous side and a freshly minted vanity license plate reading “NULL.”

That would be Droogie (his handle, if that’s not obvious), a presenter at this year’s DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas and man with a very specific problem: He’s on the receiving end of thousands of dollars worth of tickets that aren’t his. But don’t tell that to the DMV.

It wasn’t, of course, supposed to end up this way. In fact, exactly the opposite. Droogie registered a vanity California license plate consisting solely of the word “NULL” — which in programming is a term for a value of zero — for fun. And, he admitted to laughs, on the off chance it would confuse automatic license plate readers and the DMV’s ticketing system. 

“I was like, ‘I’m the shit,'” he joked to the crowd. “‘I’m gonna be invisible.’ Instead, I got all the tickets.”

The one and only Droogie.

The one and only Droogie.

Image: jack morse / mashable

Things didn’t go south immediately. As Droogie explained, he’s a cautious driver and didn’t get any tickets for the first year he owned the vanity plate. Then he went to reregister his tags online, and, when prompted to input his license plate, broke the DMV webpage. 

It seemed the DMV site didn’t recognize the plate “NULL” as an actual input. 

The broken DMV page in question.

The broken DMV page in question.

Image: Jack Morse / Photo of a slide from Droogie’s Presentation

That was the first sign that something was amiss. 

The next sign was, well, a little more serious: After receiving a legitimate parking ticket, thousands of dollars in random tickets starting arriving in the mail at his house, addressed to him. 

It seemed that a privately operated citation processing center had a database of outstanding tickets, and, for some reason — possibly due to incomplete data on their end — many of those tickets were assigned to the license plate “NULL.” In other words, the processing center was likely trying to tell its systems it didn’t know the plates of the offending cars. Instead, with Droogie’s vanity plate now in play, it pegged all those outstanding tickets on him. 

Specifically, over $12,000 worth of outstanding tickets. 

A list of some of the tickets assigned to the "NULL" plate.

A list of some of the tickets assigned to the “NULL” plate.

Image: jack morse / photo of one of Droogie’s slides

“Basically,” observed Droogie, “this is bullshit”

After contacting the DMV and the LAPD, and painstakingly explaining his situation, they both told him the same thing: change your plates. 

“I said, ‘No, I didn’t do anything wrong.'”

But the tickets were still piling up. Thankfully, the DMV contacted the private citation processing company, which then erased the $12,000 in fines. However, and this part is key, they didn’t actually fix the problem with their system

Droogie explained that, as of present, tickets are still being associated with his license plate and the system thinks he owes over $6,000. 

Essentially, Droogie’s prank backfired. Hard. But no matter what, he insisted to the laughing crowd, he’s not paying those damn tickets. 

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