Number plate scams are on the rise, with cases ranging from a woman who was left stunned in a car park after walking towards her car only to discover an identical car with an identical registration next to it, to a Staffordshire resident whose car was allegedly clocked speeding in London while they were asleep 200 miles north.
In fact, according to research published last spring, one in every twelve of the 37 million vehicles on our roads in the UK is estimated to have cloned licence plates or plates that have been doctored in some way for unscrupulous purposes, such as driving off without paying for gas – or, in extreme cases, armed robbery.
Unfortunately, for determined criminals, cloning licence plates is relatively simple. This is due in part to the growing number of online individuals and businesses willing to issue registration plates without first seeing the V5C vehicle registration certificate, which is usually required.
Dr. Ken German of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI), who conducted the study, advised car buyers to be as thorough as possible before agreeing to buy a vehicle, especially if it is being sold privately rather than by a business trader, in the Telegraph. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is,” says Dr. German, who advises people to avoid anyone selling a car for an unusually low price for its specifications, who only accepts cash payments, and who appears to be in a hurry to sell.
People buying used cars should pay for a car history or ‘HPI' check, which will search official DVLA, police, and other databases to display a vehicle's recorded details, according to trusted motoring advice sources like Honest John. Depending on the level of check paid for, this can include the colour, date of first registration, and engine size, as well as the number of previous owners and other information.
The information obtained from a reputable website's official online HPI car history check should match the information on the vehicle, such as the VIN numbers found on the windscreen and by one of the front doors, and the registration plate. It should also match the V5 registration document, which prospective car buyers should always inspect before signing a contract.
If you discover your car's number plate has been cloned in a scam, the police advise you to promptly return any speeding or parking fines, as well as any documentary evidence proving it wasn't your genuine vehicle, to whoever issued them. Sending everything by recorded, signed-for mail is a good idea.
Number plate scam victims should also write or fax the DVLA, who will add a note to your vehicle's file to document that it has been cloned. The police will also do everything possible to locate the cloned vehicle as well as the person(s) responsible for this criminal activity. Contact the police in person at your local station or call 101 for non-emergency assistance. Dial 999 if you become aware of a crime in progress involving your vehicle.
Anyone who reports their number plates as stolen will usually find a mark against their vehicle's registration in the police national computer (PNC). This means that the police will be notified every time your plates are detected by a static or mobile automatic number plate recognition camera (ANPR), which will almost certainly result in the police stopping the car. Remember that almost all number plate fraud is indiscriminate, so if it happens to you, know that it's unlikely to be personal.
To avoid having your car's number plates physically removed and stolen, which is another tactic used by some criminals, you can get anti-theft screws for free from your local police station, so it's worth checking with them. Anti-theft registration plates, which shatter if anyone tries to remove them, are also available, though they are usually quite expensive. Furthermore, purchasing a dash-cam will make it far easier to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your vehicle was not driven by you.
Despite the fact that number plate scams such as cloning are on the rise, it is clear that motorists can take steps to reduce their chances of becoming a victim. Furthermore, as public awareness of this type of crime grows, organisations such as the police and the DVLA are better able to deal with cases sympathetically.
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