Request Assistance
9.9 out of 10 based on 12,000+ reviews

Attack of the Clones: Number Plate Theft and Vehicle Cloning

These days, Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology (or ANPR) is everywhere. In fact, there are more than 8500 such cameras around the UK, able to capture up to 35 million registrations per day. It is used to help combat crime, and to issue fines to those guilty of motoring offences. However, as a result of this new technology a new crime has emerged: number plate theft and vehicle cloning.

With number plate theft, a criminal may simply swap plates in order to commit a particular crime, such as a robbery, for example. In fact, around 80% of crimes in the UK involve a vehicle to some extent, if only as transport to or from the crime scene. In these cases, it doesn’t much matter where the plates come from. With cloning, however, an effort is made to copy the registration number from a vehicle of the appropriate make, model, and colour and get identical number plates made up, in a deliberate attempt to avoid things like congestion charges, speeding tickets and parking fines. The fines are still issued, but the demand for money goes to the rightful owner of the registration instead!

To clone a plate, thieves will either simply steal the physical plates from an appropriate vehicle, or they will research an appropriate vehicle and have new plates made by an unscrupulous manufacturer who is happy to forgo the usual security checks. As a result, there are an estimated 90,000 cloned vehicles on our roads.

One of our customers, Mr Jones (real name withheld for security), came to us as a victim of cloning, keen to change his registration number. The first he realised he‘d been targeted was when he received a parking fine in the post, accompanied by a photograph of a car the same make and model as his own. He was “angry and upset” at being a victim of cloning, particularly as the real culprit was out there getting away with various motoring crimes in his name.

Mr Jones was quick to contact the penalty enforcement office, and after that the police. Surprisingly, he was informed by the police that registration cloning is not a reportable crime. Similarly, when ANPR recognises a vehicle as displaying incorrect plates, the information is noted but not acted upon until the cloned vehicle is used in a crime. What’s more, the onus to prove they do not deserve the tickets and fines is on the owner of the original vehicle.

The law of the land has historically been “innocent until proven guilty” but, if your number plate has been cloned, this rule is reversed, it is up to you to prove that you are innocent of the various motoring offences the culprit has committed using the cloned plates.

Having alerted the authorities of the cloning, Mr Jones contacted the DVLA and requested a new registration number to be issued. However, he was informed there would be a potential 5 week waiting period without any guarantee there would be a replacement registration number; indeed, of the 6500 reports made to the DVLA in the last year, only a few more than 200 new registration numbers were issued. With more tickets and fines landing on his doormat each day, Mr Jones decided to purchase a new registration mark for himself.

"Trying to report my car had been cloned felt like I had slipped into a black hole"

Mr. Jones

Mr Jones says, frustrated at being given the run-around by the authorities, received four more parking fines in the time taken to make various calls and complaints. He believes reporting a cloned registration should be taken more seriously. It’s hard to disagree when only 45 arrests related to cloning were made in 2018.

The number of cloning incidents is on the rise. In just one year, reports indicate an increase of more than 150%, and it’s likely this number is in fact higher as many do not report the issue; unable or unwilling to prove their whereabouts when a fine was issued, they simply pay the fee.

“It has been a real eye-opener having my car cloned,” says Mr Jones, surprised at “how easy it is to do and get away with”.

So, can it be avoided? And what should you do if you find yourself a victim of registration number cloning?

Steps you can take to minimise your risk and chance of prosecution:

  1. Take photos of your vehicle. These can be a great help in showing subtle differences between any offending vehicle and your own. Those dents and scrapes and other imperfections (or lack thereof) could get you off the hook, as can any distinctive stickers or other decals you may have.
  2. Speaking of number plates, ensure you purchase your plates from a legally registered manufacturer. A legitimate manufacturer is legally obliged to provide their details on the plate, albeit using a small design or font. Cloned plates frequently lack this detail.
  3. If you are a victim of registration cloning, contact the DVLA and the police. It may not lead to an investigation, but it will contribute to your evidence of innocence.
  4. CCTV footage can help prove your whereabouts – you can use the ANPR technology of the area you were in at the time the fine was issued. You have the right to ask for this footage, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get hold of!
  5. It might be worth getting a dash camera as they can help prove your location. GPS tracking, too, is a good investment. Similarly, the testimony of other people can help argue your case, if they’re willing to provide witness statements.
  6. Personalised registration numbers are less frequently targeted as they are so distinctive, meaning they make for good preventative measures. Similarly, if you find you have been cloned, a replacement registration number is a great way to avoid further fines; as Mr Jones discovered, a personal plate does not have to be expensive. Check out our extensive range at plates4less.co.uk.

It’s important to act quickly if you think you’re the victim of plate cloning as it’s a problem that can only get worse the longer you wait to report it. Until the law regarding cloning changes, you are guilty until proven innocent and the onus is on you to avoid any undeserved fines.

In this respect, people who have had their vehicles cloned are victims twice over. Not only have they been subjected to the initial cloning incident but, as a result, they are also bombarded with speeding tickets and parking fines and have to fight to prove their innocence.

On the other side of the story, the authorities also face difficulties when it comes to tackling cloning. A person could use cloning as an excuse, attempting to dodge a ticket or fine by claiming that their plates had been cloned.

  • What do you think about this issue?
  • How could the authorities better tackle cloning?
  • Do you have any tips for avoiding vehicle or number plate cloning?

Leave us a comment on our Facebook if you have any extra information or thoughts.

If you'd like to be notified as soon as our next article is published, please subscribe below.
Please let us know what you think and like our Facebook Page.
Any opinions expressed in this article are those of the Author and not Plates4less - VRM Swansea. Any images used are for illustration purposes only and are covered under fair use.