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Car crime experts yesterday backed calls to tighten a 'gaping' legal loophole which allows anyone to clone a number plate.
A spokesman for mycarcheck.com, a company that specialises in helping detect car crime, praised Shadow Roads Minister Robert Goodwill who highlighted the loophole but said the MP had only touched the 'tip of the iceberg.'
The Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby, managed to buy an exact replica of Gordon Brown’s registration plate using nothing more than a note of the number, the Internet, and a credit card to purchase a made-to-order copy from a UK company.
It was perfectly legal as he'd merely purchased a 'show plate' which are dictated by the customer online or over the phone and are only supposed to be used at off-road events.
However police chiefs say they are nigh on impossible to tell apart from genuine number plates and The Association of Chief Police officers (ACPO) believe 'show plates' are being used to disguise the identity of an estimated 25,000 cars cloned each year.
Every day cars are stolen and given false new identities before being sold on to ordinary members of the public. Often the buyers are delighted at having found a 'bargain' only to find that instead of getting a Ferrari, Porsche or such like for a knockdown price they have lost their money and bought a heap of trouble instead.
"Car cloning is big business," said Roger Powell, General Manager of mycarcheck.com. "Almost every police force across Britain has reported a rise in the number of incidents in recent months."
"Often criminals copy the identity of a legitimate vehicle to put on an identical stolen vehicle which is then used in other crimes or sold as quickly as possible, often for a fraction of is true value."
"There is not a day goes by without innocent people calling mycarcheck.com and telling us about how they have become victims." said Mr Powell.
It is estimated that of the 35m or so vehicles on Britain's roads as many as one in three could have something to hide.
But with the used car industry in the UK worth more than £28bn a year it is a major attraction for organised criminals.
"There’s no doubt cloning is on the increase because there’s a lot of money to be made by crooks," said Phil Swift, a former policeman who now heads Claims Management & Adjusting Ltd which specialises in vehicle theft investigations.
"About 360,000 cars are stolen each year but less than 50 per cent of them are recovered."
"We used to think a lot of the cars were being broken up or shipped abroad but the reality is that they most of them have been cloned and are driving around with false identities. The new owners are completely unaware.”