What is car cloning?

red car with no number plate

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Car cloning is when a criminal steals your car’s identity. Cars are usually cloned to disguise a stolen vehicle. Criminals also often clone cars to avoid speeding fines, parking tickets or other offences. In some cases, the cars are even used to commit more serious crimes such as armed robbery or drug trafficking.

How does it work?

Let’s say a criminal steals a car. The thief wants to sell the car to turn a profit, but must first disguise the identity of the stolen vehicle to dodge the police. The fraudster must therefore give it a false number plate, often that of a similar make or model. The thief can either steal the number plate of the legitimate car, or more commonly these days buy a number plate online.

Don’t you have to prove ownership of a car before you can buy a number plate?

In a bid to cut down on car cloning, the government tightened up the laws on the sale of number plates in 2003 so that buyers have to provide proof of identity and ownership. But the rules apply only to UK suppliers and are easy to circumnavigate, particularly online.

What about all those automated number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras? Don’t they prevent car cloning?

There are thousands of ANPR cameras on Britain’s roads but they are used primarily to spot cars that are not taxed or insured. Unfortunately, they aren’t much use when it comes to identifying a cloned car.

How do I know if my car has been cloned?

You might have no idea that your car has been cloned until you receive a penalty notice or fine for an offence you did not commit. Worse, you might have the police knocking at your door because your cloned car has been used for criminal purposes. Neil Hodson, managing director of HPI, says: “For most victims of car cloning it’s a parking fine from somewhere they have never visited or a speeding ticket issued on a day the car was tucked-up in the garage that raises the alarm. “For others, it can be more extreme – it could be the police turning up at their front door, especially if the car has been used to commit a crime.”

What if I unwittingly buy a cloned car?

Motorists who unknowingly buy a stolen car that has been given a false identity can lose both the car and their money. It’s therefore important to make sure you do everything you can to reduce the risk.

  • Always ask the seller for the registration number, make and model of the car before you see the vehicle. You can then verify these details on the DVLA’s free, online vehicle enquiry service.
  • When you go to view the car, check the log book or V5C vehicle registration certificate. Make sure it has a ‘DVL’ watermark, and the serial number isn’t between BG8229501 to BG9999030, or BI2305501 to BI2800000. If it is, the V5C might be stolen.
  • Also check that the details on the V5C match the details given to you by the owner.
  • It’s a good idea to see the car at the address on the log book. Don’t meet in a car park or motorway service station.
  • Look, too, for the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) and check that it corresponds with the details on the log book. The VIN can usually be found on a metal plate under the bonnet.
  • The price of the car can sometimes give away its shady past. If the vehicle is on the market for less than 70% of its typical value, alarm bells should ring. If a deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t hand over cash for a car because if it turns out to be stolen, you are unlikely ever to see the money again. You should also get a receipt for the purchase.

A number of firms including HPI, Experian and the AA also run vehicle checks, though they charge a fee for the service.

What should I do if I am the victim of a cloning scam?

You should notify both the police and the DVLA. If you have received any fines or tickets, you should return the paperwork, together with any evidence to prove that you weren’t present at the time of the incident.

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