Civilian license plates are administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles in each state and are labeled with either a random assignment of numbers/letters or a customer-designated number and letter, in addition to the name of the issuing state. Federal license plates also use letters and numbers in a random sequence, but they include non-random lettering that stands for one or another branch or office within the government. Government license plates also use symbols and words related to the federal government.
Look for the logo, seal or initials of a governmental agency on the plate such as "FBI" or "USDA." These indicate the sponsoring organization or agency responsible for the vehicle's registration.
Find the phrase "U.S. Government," which is only printed on plates operating in a federal capacity. Federal government plates (post 2001) also feature reflective sheeting and watermarks, as well as a hologram of an American eagle.
Determine if the license plate symbols start with a letter or a string of letters and compare these to a list of known governmental plate codes (see Resources).
Look for oddities in the license plate as compared to civilian license plates. This may include any combination of items described in Step 1 to Step 3, an abnormally small amount of letters/numbers or atypical colors.