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Car cloning: what it is and how to avoid it

Car cloning is a major problem in the UK. If you buy a car that's been cloned, you could find yourself seriously out of pocket. You also need to be on the lookout for signs that your existing car has been cloned.

Someone stealing a car's licence plate


What is car cloning?

Car cloning is when criminals steal a car’s identity so they can disguise the real identity of another vehicle.

It means any offences committed using the disguised car gets automatically linked to the owner of the car which had its identity stolen.

If your car has been cloned, you could start to receive penalties or notices for offences you didn’t commit through your letter box. You might even find detectives turn up at your front door because a serious crime has been committed using the fake identity.


How do criminals clone a car?

First of all, criminals must get hold of a car, either by stealing it or perhaps salvaging one that’s been in an accident. To turn the vehicle into a clone, criminals must put number plates on it that are the same as another car, which needs to be legally registered and have the same colour, make and model as the vehicle they will be using.

Once criminals have completed these steps there will be 2 cars that look virtually the same as one another driving around on UK roads. For example, 2 grey BMW 3 Series with the same number plate.

It means the police are very unlikely to realise that the fake car isn’t the real thing – sometimes criminals even get fake registration documents made, including a V5C log book and change the chassis number. So, if a crime is committed using the fake car, the police are led straight to the door of the person whose car has been cloned.


What should I do if my number plate is stolen?

If your number plates have been stolen, you should tell the police straight away. It’s highly likely that your car has been cloned. You might soon be getting a knock on your door if an offence has been committed by someone using another car with your number plate.

But it’s much better to contact the police before they come looking for you. Once you’ve reported your number plates as being stolen, you should keep a record of the crime reference number.

It’s illegal to drive on UK roads without front and back number plates, so you need to get hold of replacement plates before you drive your car again. If you drive without correctly displayed number plates, you could be fined up to £1,000.

You can get hold of replacement number plates within 24 hours through an online retailer. But it could be better to get a new private registration number to differentiate your car from the fake, which might be notching up speeding tickets or getting involved in much more serious offences.

Don’t just bury your head in the sand. As well as telling the police your car has likely been cloned, you should also:

  • Get in touch with the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) – you should give them the crime reference number you got when you reported the license plate theft to the police.
  • Tell your insurer that your car has likely been cloned. You might want to give them the crime reference number too.

How else do I know if my car is cloned?

If your number plate hasn’t been stolen, you usually won’t know your car has been cloned until you start getting penalties through the post.

You might even get a knock on the door from the police if a more serious crime has been committed in the car that’s using your registration number. Criminals might have had fake number plates made up or been able to buy them online.

You should send back and dispute any penalties or notices you receive that have nothing to do with you. It might be necessary to provide some evidence that you weren’t responsible for the offences, including witness statements and GPS data – anything that helps prove you didn’t commit them.


What happens if I buy a cloned car?

It’s very bad news if you buy a cloned car: you're likely to lose both the money you paid for it and the car itself.

You should expect a visit from the police as they're likely to want to investigate and trace the seller.


How do I avoid buying a cloned car?

When you buy a second-hand car, you need to check the V5C logbook and that the VIN number (Vehicle Identification Number) printed on it is the same as the one that’s stamped on the chassis of the car.

This isn’t foolproof though, as the V5C document may have been forged. Sophisticated criminals may have even changed parts on the car and had a VIN number stamped on it themselves.


Does my car insurance cover car cloning?

If you have legal assistance cover with your car insurance policy, it’s possible you can use it to try and get back the money you paid for the cloned car.

It depends on the wording of your car insurance policy. Even if you do have legal assistance cover included, the insurer still needs to see a reasonable chance of a successful claim for compensation against the seller of the cloned car.

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