Motor Industry News
Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson is probably one of the most trusted and best known motoring experts in the country but anyone wanting a bargain from the television presenter yesterday (Tues) would have been in for a shock. Clarkson clone Roger Paul was in Glasgow yesterday to demonstrate to motorists that not everything is as it seems.
Increasing numbers of drivers are falling victim to vehicle identity theft in a potentially deadly scam estimated to be worth billions of pounds a year to organised gangs. Almost every police force in Britain has reported a rise in the number of reported thefts of number plates and it's been estimated by Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) teams across the UK that there could be at least 100,000 cloned cars on the roads.
"Car cloning is big business and often the proceeds from such crimes are used by organised gangs to finance drugs deals, human trafficking and even terrorism," said Roger Powell, General Manager of mycarcheck.com. "Often the first victims know they have been cloned is when they start getting fines for offences they never committed or worse they are involved in an accident."
"A car may look alright but if it has been written-off or stolen then insurance companies may not pay out if it is ever involved in another claim," said Mr. Powell.
Over 7.5m people a year buy a used car but according to mycarcheck.com, 8 out of 10 buyers admit to relying on the 'honesty' of the seller to tell them about the vehicle's past, even though it is estimated that of the 30 million cars registered with the DVLA at least one in six have something to hide.
Each year around 25,000 dangerous cars are thought to be put back on the road, many of them sold to unsuspecting motorists by confidence tricksters making an estimated £3bn a year from the illegal trade. However, according to mycarcheck.com, it's not just cloning that drivers have to be worried about. Turning back the mileage on vehicles is estimated to cost consumers around £100m a year.
"The practice of tampering with a vehicle's mileage can grossly influence a car's value by adding hundreds or thousands of pounds to a selling price," said Mr Powell, whose company has access to the mileage records of more than 26m currently taxed vehicles on the roads of mainland Britain.
"We also inform our customers if a vehicle has been stolen and recovered as the implications for the buyer are potentially disastrous," said Mr Powell, whose company is the only data provider to supply that information to consumers. "More than 85% of stolen cars are taken with a key and if any of the keys are missing after the vehicle has been recovered it could be stolen again. It does happen."
A car is stolen on average every three minutes and while many are given false identities before being sold for thousands of pounds, many crooks have also found they can get more than just a good price for the car. Experts have discovered an increasing number of cases in which thieves appear to have used the scam to obtain personal details of drivers and then cloned their human identities as well.
Whenever anybody buys a vehicle they have to provide the seller with personal information to obtain a V5C, the legal document registering the name and details of the new owner.
"In providing information for the new registration certificate, unsuspecting victims are handing over personal details," said Phil Swift, a former policeman who now heads Claims Management & Adjusting Ltd which specialises in vehicle theft investigations. "What appears to be a friendly chat could be providing important additional details such as what a person does for a living, if they are married or have children."
Armed with such personal information as someone's name, address, date of birth, licence number and anything extra gleaned from a conversation the crooks can easily impersonate victims to obtain loans, credit cards or property using a false identity. "Criminals who were once happy just to clone cars are now 'cloning people'," said Mr Swift. "I had a man come to me who paid £4,500 for a car only to discover that it had been cloned. If that wasn't bad enough within four weeks his mail was going missing and among the correspondence was a new credit card with a £7,500 limit and its PIN."
According to the experts one of the reasons crooks find it so easy to clone a car is the policy of manufacturers to advertise a vehicle's unique VIN number on public display. "Displaying vehicle identification numbers on a car's windscreen is akin to leaving a credit card in the middle of the street with its pin number on the back," claims Roger Powell. "Perhaps the time has come for the motor manufacturers and the government to review the policy and move the vehicle identification numbers inside vehicles to make it more difficult for thieves to get the information." by Sean Murphy