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Cloned Number Plates
Become a victim of car cloning and you might be in trouble with the police before the crooks!
Vehicle identity theft accelerating and causing innocent motorists big problems
Cloned number plates and number plate theft have become such a serious problem that a leading supplier of cherished plates is providing free anti-theft plate fasteners and initiating a fast response online and telephone service to help victims.
"Identity theft is now growing for vehicles as well as people , so motorists, the motor trade, and the police and other authorities, need to take urgent action," says Des Elton, founder and CEO of Speedyreg.co.uk, the UK's leading dealers in dateless personalised vehicle registrations.
"Our alarm bells started ringing when one of our fleet of over 6,000 mopeds was summoned for speeding along the M1, and another was alleged to be parking on a yellow line in central London.
"Neither had left our secure warehouses in Northern Ireland!
Distressing experience for innocent motorists
"Fortunately, we are geared as a business to deal with vehicle identity theft and so could prove quickly that the police were using out-of-date vehicle registration databases or the numbers had been cloned or stolen. But individual motorists may become very distressed and subject to time, expense and endless hassles when charged with a crime related to a vehicle bearing a number apparently registered to them.
"Some estimates of vehicle identity thefts exceed 10,000 annually in the UK, but nobody really knows because the legitimate owner of a registration may not be aware of becoming a victim. We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg, but there is obviously an increase in these problems because of the summonses that we get for the Speedyreg fleet of motorcycles,
"The tyres on our thousands of bikes hardly ever touch a public road. We use the bikes to store personalised and collectible registration numbers for fast transfers to our clients, so they only leave secure storage to get to and from their MoT tests, and then they travel in closed vans.
Economic recession aggrevates problems
"I fear the cloning and plate theft problems will only get worse because of the economic recession, with the authorities not updating their registration number databases regularly, and the increased use of plate recognition cameras, which, even if they make comparatively few mistakes, still wrongly identify thousands of vehicles.
"The incentives for crooks to clone vehicles is increasing as fuel prices rise. Some areas of the UK have already seen a significant increase in motorists stealing plates, attaching them temporarily over the top of their own plates, filling up with fuel and then driving away without paying. They dump the stolen plate as soon as possible, and then steal another when they start running low on fuel.
"The only clues that the police have to follow up is the filling station's security camera shot of the vehicle with the stolen or false plate, or perhaps the abandoned plates themselves.
Personalised plates not popular with crooks
"Plate stealing is also a routine action by crooks before using a vehicle to commit a crime. They target a similar make, colour and model to lay a false trail. The crooks tend to steer clear of personalised distinctive numbers - they want a registration plate that is as unremarkable as possible.
"Vehicle cloning and plate stealing result in many innocent motorists now facing accusations of being involved in a whole range of crimes, some serious offences in which the vehicle is incidental but provides the most obvious clues for investigators.
"Aggravating things further is the difficulty at present staffing levels for police and traffic wardens to check for false plates, which have become far too easy to buy online. In theory, the British Standard for plates and new requirements about how they are issued should be reducing the numbers of fakes, but I fear this is not the case.
Database maintenance essential
"Also, the databases of registrations used by investigators following up registrations of vehicles suspected of being involved in crimes may be out of date and poorly maintained because of shortages of trained staff."
Speedyreg.co.uk updates its database of nearly 35 million UK registration numbers every 24 hours primarily to give a fast sales and valuation service to clients buying or selling cherished numbers.
Now, as Speedyreg's contribution towards dealing with vehicle identity theft, Mr. Elton says all clients automatically receive anti-theft plate fasteners without charge. In addition, Speedyreg has allocated expert staff to help any clients who become victims to get copies of database extracts and the company's paper records to establish their innocence.
"It's not difficult to prove that a moped that cannot top 40 mph was unable to break the speed limit doing over 80mph on a motorway," says Mr. Elton. "But other vehicle identity theft cases can be very complex to resolve."