Drivers hit by huge rise in fines of up to £130 due to cloned licence plates – how to protect yourself

DRIVERS are being warned about a huge rise in the number of fines issued due to cloned licence plates.

Licence plate cloning is where fraudsters copy your car registration number and assign it to another car, usually to carry out illegal activities.

Criminals clone licence plates to commit illegal activities which could land you with a fine

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Criminals clone licence plates to commit illegal activities which could land you with a fine

It means you will be blamed if they are caught committing motor-related offences.

It is not a new issue – but the number of people affected has soared over the past few years, new figures show.

The amount of innocent drivers receiving fines in London because their number plate has been cloned has more than doubled since 2019, a freedom of information (FOI) request to Transport for London (TfL) has revealed.

The FOI, provided exclusively to The Sun by MoneySuperMarket, showed 16,264 Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) were issued vehicles with cloned plates in London last year – more than double the 7,262 issued in 2021.

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A large number of those fines were for driving into the ULEZ zone without paying.

Most PCN charges are £130, which can quickly rack up if the driver receives several fines.

And the problem is far from limited to London.

According to a police investigation last year, up to two million drivers across the UK could be at risk of fines as a result of their licence plates being cloned by other motorists.

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Some drivers could be hit with even heftier fines if their plates are caught in more serious offences, such as speeding.

The minimum penalty for speeding is a £100 fine plus three points on your licence.

But if you plead not guilty and are taken to court, but aren’t successful in your appeal, the maximum fine is £1,000 for most roads or £2,500 if you were on a motorway.

Alice Hempstead, insurance expert at MoneySuperMarket, added that the rise in licence plate cloning is also contributing to the hefty rises in car insurance premiums drivers are facing.

“Vehicle security has become one of the greatest concerns for vehicle owners and insurers,” she said. 

“With increases in thefts, cloning, and part-stealing across the UK, most drivers have seen their insurance premiums increase dramatically in recent years, and it’s more important than ever for drivers to take the security of their vehicles seriously.”

However, she said there are steps drivers can take to prevent their number plate from being cloned, such as keeping their car locked away or hidden.

“Even doing something as minimal as using a car cover can deter thieves and number-plate cloners, but parking your car in a garage and fitting insurer-approved security devices can protect your vehicle and lower your insurance premiums as well,” she said.

What is number plate cloning?

Number or licence plate cloning is where someone steals the identity of your car by using your licence plate number on their own vehicle.

Crooks will typically choose a near-identical car to the one they intend to clone so it goes unnoticed for as long as possible, according to motor firm Wilsons.

It said they tend to pick cars with a clean history, such as no parking tickets or speeding fines.

Any offences they commit while driving the car will then be blamed on the genuine owner of that licence plate number.

Criminals may find licence plates on the internet or by looking for cars out and about.

Many drivers may unwittingly post a picture of their car online, meaning fraudsters can easily steal its identity.

‘I spent months fighting after criminal stole fuel using my licence number’

Philip Tooze spent months dealing with police after a criminal stole fuel while using his licence plate number in December last year.

The criminal drove off from a petrol station in Blackburn without paying in a similar car to Philip and a licence plate number that matched.

The first Philip heard of it was when he received a demand for payment from Forecourt Eye, which recovers losses on behalf of fuel retailers.

The letter contained a QR code which we scanned and he was able to see photos of the incident – which is when he realised it wasn’t him.

“The photo showed a young man who looked nothing like me but he was stood next to a black Volkswagen Scirocco like mine, with the same number plate,” Philip said.

“However, my car is a 2.0-litre TDI BlueMotion and this one wasn’t, which was a giveaway.”

When Phillip explained the situation to Forecourt Eye, they understood he had been a victim of car cloning – but needed him to telephone the police in Blackburn to get a crime reference number and for the police to try to trace and prosecute the culprit.

He then had to report it to the nearest police force where he lives.

“I ended up with two different crime reference numbers and the police also told me to report it to the DVLA,” he said.

“I wasn’t able to report it to the DVLA online, I was expected to write to them in the post and it takes up to six weeks for them to then keep a record of it. You would think in this day and age they would have a paperless system.

“My frustration was that everything was a duplication of effort, nothing appeared to be joined up. When you’re a victim you just want things dealt with quickly.”

What do I need to do if my car is cloned?

If you receive a parking or speeding fine you don’t recognise, you may have been a victim of licence plate cloning.

The first thing you need to do is contact the police to get a crime reference number, and report it to the DLVA.

When you report car cloning, try to include any evidence to show that your car wasn’t actually involved, such as if you have proof you were somewhere else on that date.

Ask for any photographic evidence, as this might help you demonstrate that you weren’t involved.

How can I stop it happening to me?

While it’s difficult to entirely prevent your car being cloned, there are a number of ways you can help protect yourself.

Parking your car off the street and somewhere secure, such as a garage, can prevent crooks from taking down your licence plate and any other features on your car, according to GoCompare.

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CCTV or a dash cam on your car could also help you track down if anyone has been lurking around your vehicle.

Be careful with what you share online, too. Avoid posting photographs where your car registration number is clearly visible.

How to get cheap car insurance

CAR insurance is an essential cost that you hope to never use but will need to cover the costs of theft or damage to your vehicle.

It’s a legal requirement to have car insurance, and going without it could land you with a £300 fine, six penalty points on your licence and even a criminal conviction.

But there are several ways to slash your premiums.

Pay upfront

Insurers give you the choice of paying for insurance monthly or upfront.

Paying monthly spreads the cost of your cover but the insurer adds interest charges which means the average motorist pays around ten per cent more overall.

If you pay for your car insurance annually you don’t pay any interest.

A typical motorist can save up to £225 a year by paying in one go, according to comparison site MoneySuperMarket.

Increase your excess

The excess is what you agree to pay each time you need to make a claim on your policy.

You can usually choose your own excess when setting up a policy and it can be as low as £100 and as high as £500 or more.

The higher your excess, the lower your premium and vice versa.

This means you could bring the cost of your insurance down by agreeing to pay more if you do need to make a claim.

But before you hike your excess, make sure you would be able to pay in the event that you do need to make a claim. 

Tweak your job

Certain jobs are seen as more risky than others for insurance purposes.

Making small but accurate changes to your job title can save you money.

For example, swapping your role from “chef” to “caterer” can save you £20, comparison site GoCompare found.

And changing your role from “fast food delivery driver” to “delivery driver” could save you £40.

But lying about your job could invalidate your policy so make sure any changes are legitimate and accurate.

Shop around

Not all comparison sites have the same range of insurers so to get the best price it’s a good idea to check two or three from Go Compare, Comparethemarket, MoneySupermarket and Confused.com.

Insurer Direct Line is also not on comparison sites so check its prices directly.

You can also get a free cash bonus by going via a cashback site such as Topcashback or Quidco.

Save the date

Renewing your car insurance sooner rather than later could save you some cash.

New cover becomes more expensive the closer you get to the renewal date.

But you can buy your car insurance up to 29 days before the policy start date and ‘lock in’ the price you’re quoted on that day.

A typical driver can save up to £265 buying new cover at least 27 days before their current policy ends, according to Go Compare.

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