Motorists are being warned that cases of car cloning are on the rise and criminals could be driving around the UK in a similar vehicle to theirs, using the exact same number plate to avoid fines and prosecution.
New research by HonestJohn.co.uk uncovered a spike in the number of cloned vehicle cases in London after obtaining data from Transport for London.
It showed the number of Penalty Charge Notices issued for failed payments to enter the Congestion Zone increased by 50 per cent in 2017 – and warns it could be rife across the rest of the UK.
The consumer motoring website analysed previously unseen TfL figures for Congestion Charge zone fines and found that 1,652 cases had been cancelled last year due to the offending vehicle being a clone of an innocent motorist’s car.
Clone: There’s been a 50% recorded rise in the number of cancelled Congestion Charge fines because it has been proved to TfL that the offending vehicle has duplicated number plates fitted
There were 1,099 cancelled Congestion Charge-related PCNs in 2016.
Data obtained for the first six months of 2018 also showed that car cloning continues to rise, with official figures up by a third for the months of January through to June.
And vehicles fitted with duplicated number plates to evade ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras are thought to be a more severe problem than TfL’s cancelled fine records suggest.
‘The true figure for the number of cloned cars on the road in London is thought to be much higher, given the complex and lengthy PCN appeals process and the fact that the Congestion Charge zone only operates Monday to Friday,’ the report said.
Not only does this mean criminals are eluding up to £214,760 worth of fines (based on an unpaid fine being £130), it is also causing unnecessary distress for blameless motorists.
In the event of a PCN being issued due to a cloned vehicle, the legitimate keeper of the car with that number plate is required to provide evidence to satisfy the issuer of the ticket that their motor was not at the time and place where the alleged offence occurred.
While the data reviewed was only for London – using Congestion Charge fine stats – experts have warned that it could be an increasing UK-wide problem
‘This is just the tip of the iceberg,’ warned HonestJohn.co.uk managing editor, Daniel Powell.
‘On the grounds that it is down to the car owner to prove they are innocent, it would be safe to assume that the true figure for car cloning in London is significantly higher as many drivers will be unable supply the evidence TfL requires to cancel the PCN,’ he said.
‘For those involved it can be a very frightening and stressful experience, because they will be threatened with crippling fines and court action if they cannot provide comprehensive proof that they were not on the capital’s roads.
‘It also raises an important question – how many drivers simply pay the fine to avoid the stress?’
The investigating consumer site said there are steps owners can take to best protect themselves from falling victim to this type of car crime.
This includes having photos of their own vehicles that could show how it is different to another that might be using cloned plates.
HonestJohn.co.uk also said it was worth having evidence of your plates showing the vehicle manufacturer at the bottom, as many duplicated versions don’t show this information.
Criminals are cloning genuine vehicles and their registrations plates to fool Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, like these
Motorists are even told to take extreme measures such as gathering CCTV footage of their own car at the time of the offence or using dash camera data – which use GPS tracking technology – to show that their vehicle was not present when infringement occurred.
Transport for London said it does take precautions by matching the offending vehicle’s number plate with the DVLA’s database before issuing fines, but has no other measures in place to combat cloning.
‘Prior to issuing the PCN we manually verify that the image of the vehicle observed in the zone matches the vehicle information provided by the DVLA,’ a spokesperson for the government agency said.
‘Only when there is a match is a penalty issued. At the point of issuing the penalty we would not know if a vehicle had been cloned.
‘On receipt of the penalty a motorist can follow the representations and appeals procedure and challenge a PCN.
‘If we receive a representation stating a vehicle has been cloned we request evidence to confirm this.’
What lawyers advise if you fall victim to car cloning
Clive Robertson from leading London law firm Healys said drivers need to be vigilant and act immediately they receive a penalty or other charge notification which they know was not them.
‘Often that is the first you know – when your car seems to have been living a double life, and not with you driving it,’ he said.
‘The issue here is to be able to prove that you were not the motorist who was ‘captured’ speeding or committing other motoring offences.
‘If you cannot establish that it was a physical impossibility for you to have been where you are reported to have been, at the time of the offence, then you will be liable.
‘Failure to pay can result in Court action which in turn can affect your credit score or, more seriously, bring points on your licence or disqualification. The knock on effect will almost certainly increase your insurance premiums.’
He went on: ‘What proof might the affected driver need? Diary entries, mobile photos showing dates and probably most helpfully, footage from a dash cam, or if you have a tracker fitted with data logging – ideal!
‘If you can show you were driving down to Brighton whilst the clone was speeding along the A 40 at Northolt, it is concrete proof. Dispute it successfully once and the police will be aware that your number has been cloned.
‘I’m very much afraid that this is a case of guilty until proven innocent.’
SAVE MONEY ON MOTORING