There has been an alarming increase in car cloning, with some police forces across the UK estimating that at least 20% of vehicles on the road are driving with cloned license plates. Data currently suggests there have been approximately 13,000 cases of cloning being reported in England and Wales in the last year, which is more than triple the number reported in 2018.

What is a cloned vehicle?

Car cloning is essentially car identity theft. Criminals make copies of a vehicle’s registration plate and then attach the copied plates onto a vehicle which is usually but not always the same make, model and colour as the original vehicle.

Once a car has a set of cloned plates it may be used for many offences for which the owner of the genuine number plate may be held accountable. These could include:

  • Parking violations
  • Speeding offences
  • It could be used to avoid the Congestion & ULEZ charges.
  • A stolen or written-off vehicle may be given cloned plates to enable criminals to sell it.
  • The cloned vehicle could be used for more serious crimes like robberies.

How do criminals find cars to clone?

The internet has made it much easier for criminals to find a suitable vehicle to clone. The search engines do the work for them, all they need to do is put in the details of a vehicle they wish to clone and up pops a photo of a car often with a number plate that can simply be copied.  

How do I know if my vehicle has been cloned?

Often you do not know your vehicle has been cloned until a speeding ticket, a parking fine or any other motoring offence notice arrives in the post, and you know your vehicle was not responsible for the offences. Another clue could be that the date of your MOT is incorrect, a criminal may take the vehicle for an MOT to enable them to sell it with a new MOT. Or an unsuspecting motorist may have purchased the stolen vehicle and put it in for an MOT.

If your number plates are physically stolen from your vehicle report this to the police immediately as it is likely that criminals are going to use those plates for cloning purposes.

I think my car has been cloned, what action should I take?

If you receive a parking notice or speeding fine that you are not responsible for, get in touch with the police force in that area to explain the situation. When you receive the penalty notice you should be able to upload photos of the offence and hopefully prove it is not you or your vehicle. Obviously, as much evidence as possible is advantageous. The police will give you a reference number if they consider a crime has been committed, keep this number safe. Get in touch with the DVLA to notify them of a possible cloned vehicle and supply them with the police reference number.

How can I protect myself from buying a cloned vehicle?

Buying a cloned vehicle can be a very troublesome and expensive mistake. The car will be seized by the police, you will have lost your money, and the police will want to question you to find out more about who you purchased the vehicle from.

There are a few simple points to check for when buying a vehicle that can help you avoid buying a cloned car:

  • Ask to see the logbook (V5C) Hold the paper up to the light to check for the DVLA watermark. A logbook can be counterfeited but it is difficult to fake the watermark.
  • Check the VIN number, this should match the logbook. Check the VIN on the car, this can be found under the bonnet and etched on the windscreen.
  • Check the service history with garages that have perhaps done any work. It is advisable to get an HPI check, this is inexpensive and will tell you if the car is still on a finance plan, stolen, clocked or written off. It will advise you of the number of previous owners and its MOT history.  A reputable seller will not have a problem with you doing these checks prior to purchase.
  • Never meet a seller on the roadside or in a car park. If the sale is private be sure you visit the seller’s home, and they are residents in the house, not just waiting outside. Also, check that the logbook matches the address you are meeting at to view the car.
  • Paying for a vehicle by credit card will give you the most protection if you are scammed. If the seller insists on cash and will not consider other forms of payment take a moment and check the seller’s credentials.  
  • Lastly, check the recommended price for the vehicle, if the selling price is too good to be true, it should ring alarm bells.

If you suspect a vehicle up for sale is cloned, do not challenge the seller just politely walk away and contact the police immediately so they are able to take action. Vehicle cloning can often be part of organised crime and therefore reporting any suspicions can help bring criminal gangs to justice.