Highly organised vehicle crime gangs are using falsified car registrations to avoid detection by the police
One in 12 of the 37 million vehicles on UK roads could have cloned registration plates, according to new research.
The vast number of cloned plates, in which a car’s identity is disguised by the false use of an authorised registration or characters amended to a registration that does not exist, are associated with serious criminal activity.
Dr Ken German, a director of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI), who collated figures from various official sources, said that according to the police there are thousands of cloned plates spotted every day by their automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and CCTV cameras clearly in an attempt (they suggest) to avoid detection when stealing petrol, parking illegally, speeding or committing more serious offences such as burglary or robbery.
About 1.75 million of the 37 million vehicles of all types in the UK (about 32 million of those being cars) are estimated be wearing cloned registration plates.
This is made up of 250,000 vehicles of all types - including cars, motorcycles, HGVs, vans, caravans, motor homes, plant and agricultural machinery - reported stolen last year, plus the 500,000 vehicles written off by insurers.
There are also about a million vehicles still unrecovered from the last decade.
The remainder of the one-in-12 total - about 1.25 million vehicles - is made up of legitimate registrations that have been doctored so they read differently.
More than 100,000 sets of number plates are stolen every year but many more will have been altered with paint, a felt tip pen or black tape to deceive ANPR cameras or witnesses to a crime.
Dr German said that the IAATI has identified that thefts of registrations are carried out by highly organised vehicle crime gangs who not only continue to make huge profits from auto crime but who are now almost solely responsible for ensuring less than half of those stolen are ever seen again.
“The police rely heavily on ANPR cameras and don’t have the time to investigate. If they spot, say, a bus number plate on a Mercedes saloon they just have to make a note on the computer flagging the anomaly,” said Dr German.
“This flag might be triggered if the same registration crops up in connection with a burglary, or worse, but the criminals - or innocent motorists whose car wears a cloned registration - have to be very unlucky to be stopped because the police don’t have the manpower.”
This has left many legitimate owners both angry and bemused when they receive letters from the police suggesting that they in their vehicle have committed an offence to which they have no knowledge.
Dr German said that most innocent purchasers of vehicles with a cloned identity are cash buyers who think they are getting a bargain.
“There are lots of rung [false identity] cars. It’s only after the purchase that buyers find out that a car has been cloned, when they contact the DVLA to register the change of keeper,” he said.
The tricks of the criminals’ trade include forged or stolen V5 vehicle registration documents and different or doctored chassis number identification plates.