CAR cloning – it’s the vehicle equivalent of identity theft and it is becoming a serious problem but many motorists remain blissfully unaware of the issue.
It is a method that criminals employ and involves ‘disguising’ a car and using it for anything from illegal parking or speeding to using it as a getaway car after a hold-up or even in terrorist activities.
Sometimes they will steal a set of number plates from a car but a legal loophole also enables people to buy replica registration plates on the internet from unscrupulous traders.
Although such plates are not road-legal, there is absolutely nothing to stop anyone simply attaching them to their car and going on their way with their new vehicle identity in place.
Usually the impostor car – sometimes a stolen vehicle – will be the same make, model and colour as the one from which the identity has been stolen.
Often the first time a victim knows his car has been cloned is when he gets a parking ticket or summons through the post – or a knock on the door from a police officer – and finds himself accused of dishonesty.
It can then be difficult and traumatic to prove their innocence, so much so that some innocent victims have simply paid up rather than face the court process.
It is estimated that there are as many as 10,000 cloned cars on British roads and Wendy Rowe, boss of leading vehicle security company Retainagroup, also points out: “If you’re unfortunate enough to buy a cloned vehicle, you’ll find that you don’t own it and that you can say goodbye to the money. Even a vehicle provenance check will not necessarily reveal a clone.”
So what can we do to foil the crooks? Firstly make it hard for anyone to steal your car’s number plates by fitting clutch-head screws or the new anti-theft plates that will break when unscrewed. And if your plates are stolen, be sure to tell the police immediately and get a crime reference number.
If you get a ticket for something you didn’t do, challenge it and don’t back down simply for a quiet life. Report it to the police.
If you are buying a used car, be very wary if it is being sold without a V5C registration document and service history consistent with its age. But even a V5C can be forged. New-look red forms were issued from 2010 and there should now be no legitimate blue V5C forms in circulation.
If you’re suspicious it may also be worth getting the car professionally inspected and a data check on its history from a trustworthy organisation such as the AA or HPI.
An HPI spokesman said: “The economic downturn means car thieves are using any trick they can to cheat buyers. Anyone buying a clone stands to lose the car and the money they paid for it, and if the vehicle is revealed as stolen, it will be returned to its rightful owner.”