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Congestion charging blamed for rise in vehicle identity thefts.
Motorists across the country are at serious risk of having their car registration numbers cloned after police revealed new statistics showing a sharp rise in vehicle identity theft.
In London alone this year 9,777 number plates have been stolen, over a thousand more than last year and close to double the number stolen in 2005. There has been a similar rise in reported plate thefts in other areas of the country.
Often cars from outside London are cloned and the false plates used to avoid the £16 a day fee to drive into the city centre.
"The theft of number plates is a growing concern across the UK," said Roger Powell, General Manager of the vehicle data checking company mycarcheck.com.
"Criminals are stealing dozens of plates a day or copying the identities of cars from across the country to commit crimes. In London the biggest scam is using false registrations to beat the traffic cameras which enforce the congestion charge in central London."
"There are instances of drivers from all areas of the country being presented with penalty notices for avoiding the toll when they haven’t been anywhere near London."
Although police forces across the UK have been distributing tamper proof screws to car dealerships in an attempt to stamp the practice out, mycarcheck.com claims criminals don't need to steal a number plate to copy a car's identity.
Conservative MP Robert Goodwill made the same point this summer when he ordered a set of decorative plates identical to the ones on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Jaguar for £20 and paraded them in the street.
"There are enough loopholes in the law that criminals can get false number plates if they want them," said Mr Powell.
"With a cloned plate a crook can commit any number of crimes safe in the knowledge that existing surveillance technology is only going to photograph the number on the vehicle and send police to an innocent person's door."
According to Phil Swift, a former policeman turned leading insurance investigator with Claims Management & Adjusting (CMA), proving your number plate's been cloned can be a tricky business.
"The courts and the police don’t like the argument because they know that criminals use it to manipulate the system. Sometimes crooks create a false paper trail and claim they are the victims."
Not only are cloned cars frequently used in armed robberies and drug deals, criminals copy the identity of one car and put it on to a stolen or damaged one so it can be sold on to unsuspecting buyers. It is estimated that one in three cars on Britain’s roads have something to hide.
"People have to make sure that any car they buy is the real deal and not a clone," added Roger Powell.
"We see examples of it all the time. I know of one car which has been cloned at least 14 times. It’s a nightmare for the real owner."