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He Got a Joke Vanity Plate. The Joke Was on Him

'NULL' turned out to be a painful choice for Joseph Tartaro
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 19, 2019 1:33 PM CDT
Updated Aug 24, 2019 8:30 AM CDT
   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – A California man's 2016 decision to get a vanity license plate set him on a path into a "Kafkaesque loop," reports Wired in a look at Joseph Tartaro's predicament. The computer security researcher began brainstorming possibilities that related to his industry, including "null pointer." He liked the NULL, and thought it would be humorous to additionally replace his wife's plate with VOID. Better still, he thought he might be "invisible" and be able to skirt a couple tickets. "I was like, 'I'm the s---,'" he told the crowd while recounting his story at DEF CON, per Mashable. The joke was on him. Nothing much happened in 2017, other than some trouble renewing the plate. But things got weird in 2018: Tickets for traffic violations made all over the state started pouring into his mailbox, with the fines totaling $12,049. Except he wasn't the offender.

As best Tartaro can tell, the trouble started in early 2018 when he paid a $35 ticket for not having a current registration sticker on his plate. He suspects someone scraped it off to use on their own car, and he decided not to bother fighting the fee. But upon paying it, his NULL plate got linked in the system to all incidents of "null"—cases where the cop forgot to take down the plate number, leaving the system with "null" in that field. Tartaro got the DMV to work with ticket issuer Citation Processing Center, getting the balance down to $6,262 and then $140. Which would be encouraging—except he can't reregister his car without paying the fines, and Tartaro indicates he doesn't want to unfairly pay for any tickets and worries more are on their way. (Read about another problematic vanity plate.)

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