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Motorists are at growing risk of falling victim to number plate cloning, an expert has warned.

Paul Hill from National Numbers said the expansion of ULEZ zones across the UK has meant cloning has become a “pernicious side effect.”

His comments come after one recent police report which indicated as many as one in 15 drivers may now be doctoring their plates.

Doctoring allows criminals to evade prosecution for offences like speeding, jumping a red light, driving in a bus lane or using a congestion charge or ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) without paying.

Complaints to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) from UK drivers who had received fines, penalties or letters for misdemeanours that involved other vehicles displaying their registration number were already increasing prior to the extension of the ULEZ zone and are likely to rise again.

Now Mr Hill, from National Numbers, fears cases are set to increase even more and that the crime is rapidly spreading nationwide.

He said: “Number plate cloning is an all too common occurrence and it is now predicted to rise with the roll out of ULEZ type schemes throughout the country. ‘’

“Cameras are used to monitor motorists compliance with the scheme but there have been more than 1,000 ULEZ cameras stolen or damaged in recent months with criminal damage cases being pursued in many instances. ‘’

‘’The manufacture and supply of number plates is a regulated activity in the UK. However, unregulated plates can be produced relatively simply creating an incentive for criminality.’’
“Individuals with vehicles which don’t meet pollution standards are tempted to use cloned plates as a way of avoiding the emission charge.”

Explaining why the crime is likely to spread he added: “People have seen cloning as a London issue – but we can expect to see it spread nationwide, as Clean Air Zones are expanded throughout the rest of the country.

“Improving the nation’s health in a way that does not impact punitively or unfairly on motorists is proving a difficult balancing act. Sadly, cloning crime has become a pernicious side effect.”

What is it?

Number plate cloning is the copying of a registration plate from one vehicle for use on another. It is a crime to clone a number plate and perpetrators can be subject to legal sanction including a fine of up to £1,000.

Who uses them?

Cloned plates are used by criminals. This might be to escape detection during criminal activity or to avoid speeding or parking offences, dodge tolls or congestion charges. These actions may then be linked to the true owner of a vehicle. Typically, a cloner steals details from a similar vehicle. The same make and specification, but also one that is compliant with its tax, MOT, and the like. This allows the vehicle to be passed off as ‘legitimate’ and less likely to be highlighted by ANPR cameras or other means.

Is it getting worse?

Yes, sadly, number plate cloning is an all too often occurrence and predicted to rise with the introduction of ULEZ and similar schemes throughout the country. ANPR technology is also feared to be driving the rise. The police say there are about 60 million ANPR “reads” gathered every day in the UK. As all-encompassing as ANPR technology is, it is only effective if people display the right registration plate. And that’s partly fuelling the growth in number plate cloning.

How to stop your car being cloned:

*If you have a garage and you use it this will deny a casual cloner the chance to record the registration number and details of your vehicle. Opportunists may also be deterred by the use of tamper resistant screws if your plate is fixed in this way rather than by adhesive pads.

*Be aware of what you share on social media or elsewhere. Limit the online details of your vehicle. Keep your V5C (logbook) and the digit reference number private.

*Use a reputable supplier when getting new or replacement number plates made. Some manufacturers have now developed ‘’Plate Sync’’ systems for recording where and when a number plate was printed. This could be invaluable evidence in countering a clone related crime.

What should I do if you fear my plate has been cloned?

*If you think your number plate has been cloned, then it is important to advise the Police and DVLA.

*You will also need to contact the issuer of any speeding or penalty fines and notify them that they don’t relate to your vehicle.

*If you can furnish evidence of this so much the better and having and doing the following will help.

*Consult with your insurer about any insurance implications and guidance they can provide.

*If you have a dash cam or tracker this will provide details of where your car was (or wasn’t) at the time of the offence. If you have your phone with you, you can also access these details via Google Timeline.

*Further, you might want to ask the issuer for photographic or other details of the vehicle and number plate in question to allow comparison with your own. This might highlight any disparities or distinctive features between the two. For example, a distinctive flag might help.

Buying a second-hand car?

If you’re planning to buy a vehicle there are some different checks that can be done to help spot if it has been cloned. These can be done alongside other verification to bring to light any issues with your prospective purchase.

Ask to see the V5C (logbook) and check the details corresponding to the vehicle. The V5C shows who the car is registered to and the address they’ve given. Additionally, it provides the make and model, date of registration, VIN/chassis number, engine number and colour.

The DVLA vehicle enquiry site also allows an external cross check of the details they hold to the ones the vendor is providing. In particular, the vehicle registration number make and model, but also year of make, engine size, emissions and date of last V5C (logbook) issue. It also provides the tax and MOT status and due dates.

Anything else I can do?

Yes, you may also wish to consider obtaining a Hire Purchase Investigation ‘’HPI’’ check. This is a privately prepared report which, depending on the service, can provide details of the vehicle’s history. For example, any outstanding finance, if the vehicle has been previously recognised as stolen or subject to write off.

Examine the number plates for evidence that they look either damaged or recently replaced. This might indicate whether they have been forcibly removed from another vehicle.