What is Car Cloning?

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Car cloning is a concerning phenomenon where criminals duplicate your car’s identity. This guide explains the essentials of car cloning and offers advice on how to determine if a car has been cloned.

What is Car Cloning?

Car cloning, also known as vehicle identity theft, is a form of illegal activity where a car is disguised as another by using a copied or stolen number plate.

This deceptive practice involves matching the number plate to a legitimate vehicle of the same make, model, and colour.

The Mechanics of Car Cloning

The process is akin to identity theft but for cars. When a car is cloned, any traffic violations, crimes, or offences committed with the cloned car are erroneously attributed to the owner of the legally registered licence plate. This misdirection effectively conceals the identity of the actual offender.

Potential Uses of Cloned Cars

  • Traffic Violations: Cloned cars are often used to evade speeding fines and parking tickets, transferring these penalties to the unsuspecting owner of the original plate.
  • Fraudulent Sales: Criminals may use cloned number plates to disguise stolen cars, which are then sold to unwary buyers, making it appear as though the vehicle is legitimate.
  • Serious Criminal Activities: In more alarming scenarios, cloned cars can be used in the commission of more severe crimes, such as bank robberies. The use of a cloned car in such instances makes it challenging for authorities to trace the actual perpetrators.

The Impact on Innocent Owners

Owners of cars whose plates have been cloned can face significant difficulties. They may receive unwarranted fines or legal notices for offences they did not commit. In severe cases, they might even become entangled in criminal investigations until the situation is clarified.

Key Takeaways

  • Car cloning is a sophisticated form of vehicle identity theft.
  • It involves using stolen or copied number plates to disguise one vehicle as another.
  • This practice can lead to various problems for the owners of the original plates, from minor fines to involvement in serious crime investigations.

Understanding car cloning is essential for vehicle owners to recognise potential risks and take appropriate measures if they suspect their vehicle’s identity has been compromised.

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How Does Car Cloning Work?

The Process of Car Cloning

Car cloning is a method used by criminals to disguise one vehicle as another by illegally replicating its number plate. This process involves creating new number plates that match the legally registered plate of a car that has the same make, model, and colour as the stolen or illegally acquired car they intend to clone.

How Does Car Cloning Work

Creating a Clone

Once the cloned plates are affixed, there are effectively two identical cars in terms of registration details:

  • The Legally Registered Car: This is the original car that has its registration details misused.
  • The Cloned Vehicle: The car that illegally bears the same registration details as the original.

Consequences of Cloning

  • When the cloned car is involved in criminal activities or traffic violations, the legal repercussions and fines are wrongly directed towards the owner of the legally registered car.
  • This misdirection causes significant legal and financial issues for the innocent owner.

How Criminals Obtain Cloned Plates

  • Purchasing Fake Plates: Criminals buy plates that replicate a legitimate registration.
  • Using Unreliable Dealers: They may acquire plates from dubious online dealers who don’t require proof of ownership.
  • Physical Theft: Stealing a registered licence plate directly from another car is another common method.

Beyond Just Plates: Further Deception

Sophisticated criminals often take additional steps to mask the vehicle’s identity:

  • Falsifying Documents: Creating counterfeit registration documents, such as the car’s V5C log book, to legitimise the cloned car.
  • Altering the VIN: Changing the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), a unique 17-digit code found on the vehicle’s frame, akin to the vehicle’s fingerprint. They do this by replacing parts of the car to match the VIN of the vehicle they are cloning.

Key Points to Understand

  • Car cloning is a form of vehicle identity theft involving replicating number plates.
  • It leads to serious legal and financial repercussions for the owners of the original plates.
  • Criminals use various methods to obtain cloned plates and may even alter vehicle identification features to conceal their activities.

Being aware of how car cloning works helps in recognising and preventing such fraudulent activities. If you suspect your vehicle’s identity has been compromised, it’s crucial to report it to the authorities promptly.

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How to Check if Your Car Has Been Cloned

Recognising the Signs of Car Cloning

Car cloning isn’t always immediately obvious to the vehicle owner. Typically, you might become aware of being a victim in a few distinct ways:

  • Unexpected Police Inquiries: You may receive a visit or contact from the police about a crime linked to your registration number, indicating your car’s identity may have been cloned.
  • Unfamiliar Penalty Notices: Receiving penalty notices for traffic offences or congestion charges that you did not commit can be a clear sign. These could include speeding tickets, parking fines, or other fixed penalty notices.
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How To Check If Your Car Has Been Cloned

Immediate Actions to Take

  • Stolen Number Plates: If you discover that your car’s number plates have been stolen, report this to the police without delay. Stolen plates are often used for cloning.
  • Scrutinise Notices: Before paying any fines or penalties, thoroughly check the details. Look for discrepancies in dates, times, locations, or vehicle descriptions that don’t match your driving history.

Verifying the Authenticity of Notices

  • Contact Issuing Authorities: If you receive a suspicious penalty notice, contact the authority that issued it. Provide them with evidence of your whereabouts or vehicle usage at the alleged time of the offence.
  • Gather Evidence: Collect any evidence that proves you were not at the location of the offence, such as GPS data, receipts, or witness statements.

Proactive Measures to Prevent Car Cloning

  • Regular Checks: Periodically check online databases or resources that may show your car’s involvement in incidents or fines.
  • Secure Your Plates: Consider using theft-resistant number plates or screws to deter thieves from stealing your plates.

Key Points to Remember

  • Be vigilant for signs like unexpected police inquiries or unexplained penalty notices.
  • Report stolen number plates immediately to the police.
  • Always verify the details of any fines or tickets received and challenge them if they are incorrect.
  • Take proactive steps to safeguard your vehicle’s identity and prevent cloning.

By staying alert and taking these measures, you can protect yourself against the repercussions of car cloning and take prompt action if you suspect your vehicle’s identity has been compromised.

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What Happens if I Buy a Cloned Car?

The Risks of Buying a Cloned Car

Purchasing a cloned car can lead to significant financial and legal issues. If you unwittingly buy a cloned vehicle, you face the risk of losing both the car and the money you paid for it.

What Happens If I Buy A Cloned Car

Police Involvement and Seizure of the Car

  • Police Questioning: The police will likely want to question you to gather information about the sale and the seller.
  • Seizure of the Vehicle: The police can seize a cloned car once its true identity is discovered.

Risk of Further Criminal Activity

Some buyers of cloned cars have experienced the vehicle being stolen shortly after purchase. Cloners sometimes retain a key and later steal the car, intending to resell it.

Essential Precautions When Buying a Used Car

  • Conduct Thorough Checks: Always thoroughly check any used car you’re considering buying.
  • Red Flags: Be wary of cars sold without V5C registration documents or service history. These are major red flags indicating potential cloning.
  • Seek Vehicles with Proper Documentation: Opt for cars that have the correct and verifiable documentation. The risks associated with buying a car without proper papers are not worth it.

The Potential for Document Forgery

  • Be aware that even official-looking documents can be forged. Exercise due diligence in verifying the authenticity of the car’s paperwork.

Insurance and Legal Assistance

  • In some situations, your car insurance provider may offer legal assistance to help you recover the money paid for the cloned car. This depends on the specifics of your insurance policy and the likelihood of successfully pursuing a claim.

Key Advice

  • Be Extremely Cautious: When purchasing a used car, vigilance and thorough checks are key to avoiding the pitfalls of buying a cloned car.
  • Legal Recourse: Explore any available legal avenues to recover losses if you purchase a cloned car.

Understanding these risks and taking the necessary precautions can help you avoid the financial and legal complications associated with buying a cloned car.

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What to Do if Your Car Has Been Cloned

Responding to Unjust Fines and Notices

If you start receiving fines or notices for offences you did not commit, it’s a clear sign that your car may have been cloned. Here are the steps to take:

  • Challenge the Fines: Return any fines or penalty notices to the issuing authorities. Accompany these with evidence proving that the offences are not yours. This can include:
    • CCTV or Dashcam Footage: Showing your car’s location at the time of the alleged offence.
    • GPS Data: From your car which can verify your whereabouts.
    • Witness Statements: Providing additional proof that you and your car were not at the stated location.

Reporting to Authorities

  • Notify the Police: Inform the police about the situation. They can initiate an investigation to trace and prosecute the person responsible for cloning your car.
  • Contact the DVLA: Reach out to the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and explain the circumstances. Provide them with the crime reference number from the police.


Informing Your Insurance Provider

  • It’s also important to notify your insurance provider about the cloning. This ensures they are aware of the situation and can advise you on any necessary steps from an insurance perspective.

Considering a New Registration Number

  • If your vehicle’s registration number has been cloned, obtaining a new private registration number could be a wise decision. This change can help to prevent future incidents of receiving unwarranted fines or penalty notices.

Key Points to Remember

  • Actively respond to any unjust fines or notices with relevant evidence.
  • Report the situation to both the police and the DVLA.
  • Inform your insurance provider about car cloning.
  • Consider changing your vehicle’s registration number to avoid future issues.

By taking these steps, you can address the issue of car cloning effectively and mitigate its impact on your life.

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How to Avoid Buying a Cloned Car

Pre-Purchase Checks

When considering a used car, certain indicators and checks are essential to avoid falling prey to car cloning.

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How To Avoid Buying A Cloned Car

Price Evaluation

  • Market Price Comparison: Be wary if the car’s price is significantly lower than the market value. A suspiciously cheap price can often be a red flag for a cloned car.

Verify Details Before Viewing

  • Request Key Information: Ask the seller for the car’s registration number, make, model, and MOT test number before your visit.
  • Online Checks: Use these details to check against the DVLA’s records online. Discrepancies between the information provided and the DVLA’s records are a strong indication of potential cloning.

Physical Checks During Viewing

Documentation Verification

  • Logbook Inspection: Ensure the logbook (V5C vehicle registration certificate) matches the number plates on the car. Look for the correct ‘DVL’ watermark to confirm the logbook’s authenticity.
  • Serial Number: The DVLA advises checking the V5C’s serial number. Avoid serial numbers within the range BG8229501 to BG9999030, or BI2305501 to BI2800000, as these could indicate a stolen logbook.

Location and Address Consistency

  • View at Registered Address: Request to see the car at the address listed on the logbook. Verify that this matches the seller’s address on their driving licence or utility bill.
  • Avoid Suspicious Locations: Be cautious of transactions in car parks, lay-bys, or service areas, as these are common spots for fraudulent activity.

Vehicle Identification Checks

  • VIN and Engine Number: Match these with the details in the logbook. The VIN is typically found on the chassis, dashboard and driver’s door, and possibly etched into the window glass.
  • Documentation Consistency: Check the car’s service history and receipts. Ensure the names and addresses match and that the mileage is consistent across documents.

Safe Payment Practices

  • Avoid Cash Payments: Use a bank transfer or another traceable method. This not only provides you with proof of purchase but also aids in any potential police investigations if the car is discovered to be stolen.

Key Advice

  • Thoroughly vet the vehicle’s background and documentation.
  • Conduct physical checks for consistency and signs of tampering.
  • Choose secure and traceable payment methods for added protection.

By diligently following these steps, you can significantly reduce the risk of inadvertently purchasing a cloned car and ensure a safer and more secure transaction.

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Frequently asked questions

Yes, personalised or private licence plates can also fall victim to cloning, just like standard, automatically assigned number plates.

However, the likelihood of cloning may be somewhat reduced with distinctive personalised plates, as their unique and conspicuous nature can make them more recognisable and thus less appealing targets for cloners.

If you find that your number plates have been stolen, it’s important to take immediate action:

  1. Report to the Police: The first step is to report the theft to the police. This alerts them to the possibility that your licence number might be used on a cloned vehicle. If a car with your licence plate is later involved in any criminal activities, the police will be aware that your plates were stolen.

  2. Inform the DVLA: Next, you should contact the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Notify them about the theft and the potential risk of your plates being cloned. This helps in keeping official records updated and may assist in any future investigations related to the cloned vehicle.

  3. Replacement of Licence Plates: If the police are unable to track down the cloned car, you will likely need to get new licence plates. This is an important step in safeguarding yourself against further issues related to the stolen plates.

By following these steps, you can effectively respond to the theft of your number plates and minimise the risk of complications arising from potential cloning.

If you have suspicions that a vehicle being offered for sale may be cloned, it’s crucial to take the following steps:

  • Avoid Purchasing: Do not proceed with buying the vehicle. Purchasing a cloned car can lead to significant problems, including the possibility of losing both the vehicle and the money you paid for it, especially if it turns out the car is stolen.

  • Contact the Police: If you believe the vehicle is stolen or cloned, it’s important to inform the police as soon as it’s safe to do so. Reporting your suspicions can aid in potential investigations and help prevent others from falling victim to similar scams.

By being cautious and alerting the authorities, you can help combat the issue of cloned vehicle sales and protect yourself from potential legal and financial repercussions.

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