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Car cloning - what is it and how do I avoid being a victim?

Sarah Tooze
Written by  Sarah Tooze
Donna McConnell
Reviewed by  Donna McConnell
3 min read
Updated: 08 Dec 2023

Copying a vehicle’s identity - either by physically stealing a registration plate or having a fake plate made illegally and put on another car - is a growing problem. Here we look at what to do if your car is cloned or you unknowingly buy a cloned vehicle, and how to avoid becoming a victim of car cloning in the first place.

What is car cloning?

Think of car cloning as a form of identity theft. Criminals want to copy the identity of a legally registered vehicle and use it for a stolen vehicle of the same make, model and colour. They may then try to sell the stolen vehicle or use it for further illegal activity. It’s also a way to dodge speeding or parking fines, tolls and other charges such as the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London.

In fact, data shows the number of incidents of car cloning has risen in recent years as more cities introduce Clean Air Zones.

A recent Freedom of Information request to the DVLA, found there were 12,300 car cloning incidents from January 2021 to September 2022.

You probably won’t realise your vehicle has been cloned until you receive a fine through the post that you know nothing about or, worse still, a police officer turns up at your door, asking questions about a crime linked to your registration number.

In addition, if you unknowingly buy a stolen vehicle with a cloned plate you could be left without the car, and the money you paid for it, when the police seize it to return it to its rightful owner.

Cars lined up in car park

What to do if you car is cloned

As soon as you notice your number plate has been removed from your car or something suspicious happens, such as a parking fine for a place you’ve never visited, you should report it to the police.

They will give you a crime reference number which you can then use to appeal any fines.

You should also inform the DVLA and consider having a new registration number.

What happens if you buy a cloned vehicle

If you unwittingly buy a vehicle that turns out to be a clone then unfortunately you don’t have any claim as technically the car doesn’t belong to you.

You’ll need to give the police as much information as possible about the seller to assist them with their enquiry.

If you paid for the car using a credit card then you have some protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This should allow you to recover up to £30,000.

However, if you paid by cash then you stand to lose all of the money.

If you have taken out legal assistance from your car insurance provider, find out if it includes any cover for when your car is cloned.

How to avoid becoming a victim of car cloning

To try to avoid a criminal physically stealing your registration plate you could fit anti-tamper security screws, which can be bought online or from car parts stores.

You should also deter criminals by parking in a well-lit area with CCTV or, better still, parking your car in a garage so it’s harder for them to make a note of your vehicle registration or physically take it.

If you’re selling your car online or uploading any photos of it to social media take extra precautions such as blurring or obscuring the number plate.

It’s worth photographing anything distinctive about your car and considering fitting a telematics or vehicle tracking device or dash cam so that if your number plate is cloned you can provide evidence of your car’s whereabouts to any authorities who may issue fines.

Tips when buying a used car

  • Beware of a car being advertised too cheaply. Make sure you research the price of the same make and model on a number of car selling sites.

  • If it’s a private seller, ask to see their driving licence and make sure their name and address match the V5C (vehicle log book).

  • Check that the V5C has a DVLA watermark and make sure the serial number is not between BG8229501 and BG9999030, or BI2305501 and BI2800000. Otherwise, the DVLA says the V5C could be stolen.

  • Make sure the vehicle identification number (VIN), which should be stamped into the chassis of the vehicle, hasn’t been tampered with and matches the number on the V5C.

  • Use the DVLA’s online enquiry service to check the vehicle has been taxed, and, if it’s more than three years old, it has a valid MOT.

  • Ask the seller for the vehicle handbooks and service history, and check the mileage recorded is consistent. You could also contact the garage which carried out the work for verification.

  • Carry out a vehicle history check with a provider such as HPI.

  • Be wary if the seller can only provide one key. Some scammers keep a second key and after they have sold the car they use their key to ‘steal’ it again.

  • Don’t pay in cash.

  • Meet the seller at their home rather than a car park, lay-by or motorway service area.