The advent of automated number plate recognition (ANPR) law enforcement has made cloning a very real problem.
Increasing numbers of law-abiding motorists are finding themselves in receipt of a parking or speeding fine they know nothing about.
Moreover, organised gangs are cloning vehicles to lure unwary buyers into buying stolen cars, leaving the new owner penniless when the police catch up with them to confiscate their pride and joy.
Yet there are a few simple steps that every motorist can take to help protect themselves.
Do you know about these eight new rules that affect motorists?
What is cloning?
Cloning is simply adopting another car’s identity and is the automotive equivalent of identity fraud.
At its most simple, it involves fitting the registration number from one car to another: while owners are legally obliged to present a car’s V5 registration document and proof of their identity before they can buy new number plates, there are a variety of ways around the need to do this.
More sophisticated techniques involved replacement or forged V5s and cloned VIN (vehicle identification number) plates. The police estimate there might be in excess of 10,000 cloned cars on the United Kingdom’s roads.
What is the 'crash for cash' scam?
Buying a secondhand car
When you’re buying a secondhand car there are a variety of techniques you can use to help stop you buying a cloned car. Read our tips for buying second hand cars here.
Parking and speeding fines
The good news is that the authorities are very aware of cloning and the dreadful impact it can have on innocent motorists whose cars have been cloned to allow the guilty to get away with speeding (and worse) with impunity.
The bad news is that it can still be disconcerting to receive a fine through the post that you know nothing about – and resolving it might be straightforward but it is likely to be long-winded, otherwise everyone would claim to be an innocent victim…
Don't get caught out by criminals targeting motorists on motorways and slip roads
What should I do if I receive a ticket I know nothing about?
Firstly, don’t panic. This is a common scenario and one the police and others are used to dealing with.
To avoid prosecution you need to write to the issuing authority and tell them that you think you have been the victim of cloning. It is useful to send them any evidence you have to prove your story: things like parking tickets, receipts from shops, or the names and address of anyone who can prove you weren’t at the scene of the alleged incident will all be helpful.
We’ve previously recommended fitting a dash cam and footage from one might be the ideal way to prove you weren’t behind the wheel of a speeding car that happens to have been fitted with your car’s registration number.
How you can avoid the driving licence scam
You need to contact the DVLA to tell them that you think your car’s registration number has been cloned.
If it agrees with you, it might issue your vehicle with a new registration number to prevent further problems.
If it won’t, you might consider buying a cheap private number plate for your car. Prices start at a couple of hundred pounds, which you might find a small price to pay for peace of mind, although, of course, there is nothing to stop it happening again…
You should also report the matter to your local police. While they are unlikely to undertake an investigation, they will give you an incident number that you can quote if you get any further fines or correspondence.
Did you know you can be fined for hogging the middle lane?
The emotional cost
It can be surprisingly upsetting to discover that your car’s identity has been cloned; aside from the inconvenience of having to prove your innocence, it can feel like a very real invasion of your privacy.
However, please understand that it is nothing personal and you haven’t been singled out: the criminals have merely seen that your car is similar to one they own and have made a note of your registration number.
It is highly unlikely they have access to any other information, such as your name or address.
Eight warning signs that your identity has been stolen
Enjoyed this article? Why not sign up for our Technology and Motoring newsletter?
If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his motoring column - to have each one delivered straight to your door every month, subscribe to Saga Magazine today!