Car Cloning: Are You at Risk?
Car cloning is the vehicle equivalent of identity theft. It is estimated that there are as many as 10,000 cloned cars on our roads, but many people are still unaware of the problem, and even the police admit they don't know the true scale of it.
So How Does Car-Cloning Work?There are several methods that criminals use to clone cars. All of them centre on getting hold of the number plates or stealing the 'identity' from another vehicle.
The Most Common Way is This:Criminals make a 'clone' of another car by replacing the number plates on their car with the stolen registration plates from an almost identical vehicle of the same make, model and even colour.
When the owner of the cloned car realises that their number plates have gone, they go to the trouble and expense of replacing them, unaware that the cloned vehicle is now being used under its new identity for a host of law-breaking activities.
These activities can range from getting away without paying for parking tickets, speeding fines or even driving off a petrol station forecourt without paying. They can also be used in more serious crimes including organised crime and potentially, terrorist activity.
Car-Cloning Via the InternetIt's not just by physically stealing the number plates that the cloners can strike. Thanks to a loophole in the law that allows Internet companies to sell replica registration plates under the stipulation that they are not to be used as real number plates, there are now more sophisticated ways to steal a car's identity.
In normal circumstances, if you wanted to buy a new number plate for your car, you would need to produce a log book, driver's license and proof of address.
Criminals look up companies willing to sell replica plates with no proof of ID over the Internet and they just place an order for whichever registration number they choose. A few days later, the plates arrive with no questions asked. Although the plates are not road legal, there is absolutely nothing to stop unscrupulous criminals just attaching them to their car and going on their way with their new vehicle identity in place. This is exactly what they do.
Being a Victim of Car-CloningOf course, with this method, the most frightening aspect is that as there is no need to actually touch the original car, there is no indication at all that cloning has taken place.
Many people have only discovered that they are a victim of this crime when they have suddenly started to receive parking tickets for places they haven't been, or other fines or endorsements that have nothing to do with them. As the onus is on them to prove their innocence, many victims have been left in the difficult situation of paying up or letting the issue go to court, simply because they cannot prove it wasn't them who carried out the infringement.
Wendy Rowe, boss of leading vehicle security company Retainagroup explains:
"The owner of a cloned car who receives fines, charges, penalty points or is accused of stealing fuel or involvement in more serious crimes has the difficult task of proving that he or she is innocent. I wonder how many have simply accepted a fine or penalty points rather than challenge the system?
"If the car is used as a getaway vehicle or in a ram raid, there will be a further victim of the original crime. And 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 You do to Stay One-Step Ahead of the Cloners?
- Make it hard for them to get your registration plates. Invest in some clutch-head screws that make them more difficult to steal or purchase a set of the new anti-theft plates that break when unscrewed. These plates will be available on the market soon and make the plates useless to thieves.
- If your number plates are stolen, make sure you report it to the police immediately and get a crime reference number. This will prove that you reported the theft should your car be cloned and your registration be used at a later date.
- If you are unlucky enough to get a ticket or a demand for something you didn't do, or somewhere you haven't been, challenge it, and report it to the authorities/police. Keep a diary of where you were on days and times in case it happens again. Make a fuss and don't back down if you know you are innocent.