ILLEGALLY cloned number plates can be purchased in a matter of seconds on Britain’s streets as a booming crime craze leaves thousands of drivers framed for offences they didn’t commit.
A Sun investigation has found government-registered suppliers selling plates without legal checks confirming the vehicle’s owner or asking for ID.
©2019 Guilhem Baker Under licence to the Sun
Sun reporter Richard Wheatstone with the cloned plates[/caption]
Online firms based overseas are also delivering plates designed to look like the real thing to the doors of potential criminals in the UK.
The clones are unrecognisable to speed cameras and police Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems and can be used to commit driving offences while hiding behind the identity of the real owner.
Granddad Richard Wise, 57, was forced to move house after being bombarded with driving fines and pulled over by armed police after his Volvo was cloned.
He told us: “It takes over your life. You just don’t know what the next day is going to bring.”
Figures obtained by Sun Online show the number of cloning reports to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) has more than doubled to around 6,500 in the last year.
But little more than 200 new registration numbers were issued to victims.
Meanwhile, letters sent by the government agency are telling drivers there’s nothing it can do unless police catch plate thieves red-handed.
Police forces across the UK could only confirm 45 arrests related to car cloning in the last year.
One of Britain’s former top car crime cops called our findings “damning” and called on the government and car makers to introduce new technology to tackle the crisis.
CLONING PLATES AS QUICK AS ORDERING A TAKEAWAY
The Sun Online found laws being flouted at one in four DVLA-registered plate suppliers we visited across London.
Laws were tightened in 2003 to force UK garages and shops supplying plates to register with the DVLA and check the photo ID and vehicle ownership documents of customers.
Church Elm Motors in Dagenham, East London, sold us plates illegally
Our reporter was told buying plates without the legal documents was ‘not a problem’
The cloned plates were ready within 90 minutes[/caption]
Many of the suppliers we visited immediately asked for a driving licence and V5 log book and said we would need to return with the documents before the plates could be made.
But within seconds of walking into three outlets, without a vehicle, we handed over around £30 for plates to clone a car we didn’t own without even showing ID.
Church Elm Motors in Dagenham, East London, had our cloned plates ready to collect within 90 minutes.
A member of staff initially said we would legally need to produce a log book, before adding: “(But) I can do it for you, it’s not a problem”.
We were only asked for a name and the make and model of the car before the order was passed on to a manufacturer over the phone.
Southside ARC in Plumstead, South East London, had illegal plates ready in three hours
Our reporter was only asked to write down his name, address and the registration number[/caption]
The company said it is now ‘dealing with the matter internally’[/caption]
Southside Accident Repair Centre in Plumstead, South East London, had the plates ready to collect within three hours.
Our reporter wasn’t asked for ID or the vehicle log book – only to write a name and address on a sheet of A4 paper.
A member of staff told a colleague: “Just get his reg (number), yeah” after confirming a price for the plates.
CS Motors in Barking, East London, said we would need to present ID and a vehicle log book but it could order the plates and take payment without seeing them first.
We weren’t asked for the documents when we returned for the plates six days later.
CS Motors in Barking, East London, initially asked for ID and vehicle documents
But the plates were ordered and sold even though we didn’t have the documents
The company handed the plates over after only asking for a name[/caption]
After being approached with our evidence, Southside ARC said “the matter is being dealt with internally” and declined to comment further.
CS Motors claimed that it didn’t need to check ID or vehicle documents when a customer pays by debit card as that means a name has been kept on record.
The firm added that because it doesn’t make the plates on site it is also not required to check documents. The DLVA said neither point is correct.
Church Elm Motors did not respond to requests for comment.
ONLINE FIRMS OFFER CLONED PLATES WITH JUST A FEW CLICKS
While UK suppliers fall under the powers of the DVLA, foreign-based companies are offering number plates designed to look like the real thing and delivered to the door of potential criminals.
We purchased plates from Jersey-based A1showplates.com and myshowplates.com which took less than a minute to order.
A1showplates.com offered plates which could be customised to look ‘Road Legal’
myshowplates.com is another Jersey-based firm offering plates delivered to UK homes
Both sets of plates cost around £20 and could be customised to appear UK road legal.
Terms and conditions on both sites stated that it would be illegal for customers to use registration numbers on the road without ownership of the vehicle.
However, the clones cannot be told apart from genuine number plates by police and traffic cameras.
DVLA laws on selling plates do not cover Jersey and nothing about either purchase was illegal.
PULLED OVER BY ARMED COPS AND BOMBARDED WITH FINES
Richard Wise has felt like a wanted man since mysterious motoring fines started landing through his door in October last year.
The granddad-of-three has been hit with eight penalty notices totalling more than £1,000 for driving offences committed around 100 miles from his home in Seaford, Sussex.
Richard Wise, 57, had to move home after his Volvo was cloned[/caption]
He’s been pulled over four times by police – including once by armed officers – believing his vehicle has been used in criminal activity.
And threats of bailiffs and County Court Judgements have seen him forced to move from his family home to protect his children and grandchildren.
The stress has seen him miss weeks of work through stress as he waded through paperwork fighting to clear his name, worrying what the cloners would do next.
Richard, 57, said: “It takes over your life. You can’t sleep, you can’t relax, you just don’t know what the next day’s going to bring.
You feel like you’ve lost control. You’re being accused of things in places you’ve never even been.
“You feel like you’ve lost control. You’re being accused of things in places you’ve never even been and as soon as they’ve got a picture of your plate it’s a case of guilty until proven innocent.
“I lived with my grandkids and I decided I had to go and rent somewhere else for their sakes. I didn’t want bailiffs coming to the door when I was out and going through their home.”
His Volvo C30 Sport was supposedly snapped in three bus lanes in Essex and East London in less than a week in October last year.
The offences in Dagenham, Romford and Rainham each landed him with a £130 fine which increased to as much as £203 while he challenged the penalties.
Meanwhile, five parking fines racked up in Luton, Reading and East London arrived at his home.
He was hit with eight fines for offences 100 miles from his home[/caption]
Councils sent out the fines relying on automatic recognition technology[/caption]
When he turned to DVLA for help, he was told there was nothing it could do unless police found the other car or if the crooks tried to register the cloned vehicle with the DVLA.
After reporting his case to Sussex Police and receiving a crime reference number, he has spent the last six months fighting each case one-by-one.
Richard now has just one bus lane fine from Barking and Dagenham Council outstanding but says he has been ‘left to drown’ by the DVLA.
He said: “It’s their problem that they have to fix but I was told there was nothing they could do. The best they could offer was asking me to buy a new registration number.
A letter from DVLA said there was ‘nothing we can do’[/caption]
If there are two vehicles displaying the same registration there is nothing we can do, unless police… trace the other vehicle, or an application to register or tax the other vehicle is made to DVLA
DVLA letter to Mr Wise
“The police know me by name now. Every time they pull me over and see it’s me they know about my situation and wish me all the best.
“My fear is that people are just paying these fines knowing they have nothing to do with them so they can just get on with their lives.
“I thought about it many times, just to make it all go away, but then I thought ‘why should I? I’m not the one in the wrong here’.
“Getting these cases overturned isn’t a happy ending. It’s taken a lot out of me and my heart goes out to anyone else that’s having to go through this.”
FINED £1,000 FOR SPEEDING ‘WHILE WATCHING TV 25 MILES AWAY’
Neville Cook, 51, endured a nine-month court battle trying to clear his name after a van with the same plates as his Citreon Berlingo was caught speeding 25 miles from his home.
The IT field engineer says he was watching television at home in Warrington, Cheshire, with the van parked on the street when it was clocked on the M6 motorway.
Neville Cook had parked his van outside his home in Warrington, Cheshire[/caption]
The van was clocked on the M6, 25 miles away from his home[/caption]
Neville claims Cheshire Police didn’t investigate or register the cloning as a crime when he reported it after being charged with the offence.
The DVLA logged his report but said there was nothing it could do unless the cloned vehicle was found by police.
He represented himself after taking the case to trial at Cheshire Magistrates Court but was fined £1,000 and handed six points on his licence after being found guilty.
The dad-of-two said: “It’s changed my view of the world and how justice works.
“I’ve had a clean licence all my life but I was told I’d been driving like a maniac and no-one wanted to look into it any further.
“I think it’s all about collecting the money, not finding out what’s actually happened.”
Cheshire Police said it had no record of Neville formally reporting a crime and that the force routinely logs and investigates car cloning.
POLICE CHIEFS CALL FOR CLONING OVERHAUL
Former Northumbria Police detective chief inspector Nigel Wilkinson, who led a national car crime taskforce, said our investigation was ‘damning’ evidence that efforts to tackle vehicle cloning aren’t working.
He said: “It’s becoming and bigger and bigger problem.
“Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet to fix it. There are two ways of dealing this which both require boots on the ground policing.
“The first is to regularly inspect premises making plates. What you’ve found is fairly damning evidence that isn’t happening.
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“The other is to properly investigate reports of cloning out on people’s doorsteps, comparing photographs to the vehicle of the licence holder and helping the innocent avoid prosecution.
“Unfortunately we no longer have dedicated teams looking at organised car crime so neither appears to be happening.
“The online stuff is another headache as these businesses operate outside our jurisdiction and you need the co-operation of the countries where these websites are based.
“The government needs to become involved with a technological solution by making it law. We’ve approached car makers about this in the past but if it’s going to cost them money and eat into their profits they’re not going to do it voluntarily.”
Australian trials for new anti-cloning system
POLICE in Australia are piloting a potential solution to motorists’ number plate cloning hell.
The state of Victoria will trial a new digitial identification system after recording more than 19,000 crimes related to plate cloning last year.
A radio frequency unit inside a sticker on a vehicle’s front windscreen will act as a third number plate and should match the visible plates.
The sticker self-destructs when removed, allowing police to identify vehicles which may have stolen or cloned plates.
Germany and Austria, among other European countries, issue number plates with an electronic watermark only through its respected transport agencies.
This allows police to use a scanner to detect genuine plates within a few seconds.
West Midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson has seen a huge spike in cloning in his region and said technology needs to catch up with the crooks.
He said: “We’ve got a serious problem in this country.
“It’s so easy for any criminal to go online and order plates which, for the purposes of what they’re using them for, are as good as the real thing.
“Thieves are also getting hold of stolen plates in big numbers by physically removing them from cars or through rogue scrap yards selling them on.
The regulation of this just hasn’t kept up and we’re left with a situation which is piling misery on thousands of people
David Jamieson, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner
“The regulation of this just hasn’t kept up and we’re left with a situation which is piling misery on thousands of people and pushing insurance premiums up for all of us.
“The government should be doing what most European countries do now by watermarking plates. This would allow them to be checked by police with an app within seconds.”
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for ANPR, Chief Constable Charlie Hall said: “Displaying cloned number plates is a criminal act and will only be done with criminal motives in mind.
“The increased reporting of this crime can be attributed to the growth in detection technology and cameras, with more victims being alerted through the issue of fixed penalty notices for traffic contraventions.
“We do, however, still think cloning is considerably under-reported as victims will usually be unaware that their number plate has been cloned.”
DVLA SAYS IT IS FIGHTING CLONERS
The DVLA said it is tackling cloning amid a 156 per cent rise in reports to around 6,500 cases a year.
The agency gave just 204 new registrations to cloning victims in 2018 but said it can only do this where there is evidence of a cloned car being driven somewhere else at the same time.
A spokesman added it is enforcing rules with suppliers and carried out 4,400 compliance visits to suppliers last year.
The spokesman said: “Any motorist who believes their vehicle has been cloned should contact the police.
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“They should also contact the issuing authority of any fines or penalties they receive to alert them to the circumstances.
“They should also write to DVLA giving as much information as they can for us to investigate.
“If there is evidence that two vehicles are showing the same registration number we can, where appropriate, provide an alternative age related registration number.”