Number Plate Theft & Car Cloning – Don’t Be a Victim

If you approached your car tomorrow morning and discovered that your number plates were missing, you could be forgiven for not taking it so seriously. After all, it is hardly the crime of the century and the thought of notifying the police probably wouldn’t cross your mind. You, like many other car owners may simply replace your number plates and consider the incident nothing more than a prank, possibly carried out by someone on their way home from the pub.

However, you may not realise just how serious the situation can become for victims of number plate theft or car cloning. The latter being even more disruptive as you may not realise you have become a victim until the fixed penalty notices and speeding fines start arriving in the post. Even worse, it could be a knock at the door from a local police officer if you are suspected of driving away from petrol stations without paying for your fuel. In the past twelve months more British motorists than ever before have become victims of car number plate theft.


Car cloning and number plate theft are serious matters which need to be reported to the appropriate authorities. If as a result of having your number plates stolen you start to receive notifications of motoring offences linked to your car’s registration mark, the onus is on you to prove that you are the victim and not the perpetrator. It is a nightmare situation which often leads to unnecessary stress and anxiety as Altaf Sadique found out when his car number plates were cloned.

So with an estimated forty thousand cases of number plate theft or cloning having occurred in the past year, you would expect the DVLA and the police to be on top of the situation. Sadly, some say the opposite is true with a number of motorists claiming there is not enough help and support for victims of this fast-growing crime in their area. Thankfully attitudes are changing and more is being done by certain regional police forces to prevent number plate thefts occurring in the first place.

Why Are So Many Number Plates Being Stolen?

In order to tackle the situation effectively, we have to first understand why number plate related crime is at an all time high. The high price of fuel coupled with the increasing use of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras; especially around the London congestion charging zone, are two of the main catalysts of the rising trend. The cost to fill the fuel tank of your average family car can be as much as eighty pounds. It is all too easy for a criminal to pinch a set of number plates from a parked car, attach them to their own vehicle (to disguise its true identity) and then fuel up before driving away without paying.

What about Car Cloning?

Thankfully there are far fewer victims of car cloning in comparison to motorists who have their number plates stolen. Car cloning occurs when a criminal steals the identity of a similar vehicle, often the same make and model, by displaying an identical set of number plates on their own car. By doing so the criminal avoids the associated costs of motoring such as; road tax, motor insurance and MOT charges. Knowing that someone else will be picking up the bill, the criminal isn’t concerned with pay and display parking fees, speed camera fines and congestion zone charges. All penalty notices for such offences will be sent to the unsuspecting genuine owner of the vehicle from which the number plates were duplicated.

‘Show Plates’ are Helping Criminals

New laws were introduced in an attempt to clamp down on the number of illegal and false number plates being produced and used on the roads of Great Britain. However buying ‘show plates’ from one of the many internet-based number plate makers avoids the requirement of having to produce the identity and vehicle documents required by law. This makes it all too easy to get a set of number plates made up and delivered to your door which appear to be road-legal, but in actual fact could be bought purely with criminal intent.

How to Secure Your Number Plates

Whilst there is little you can do to prevent your car being cloned, there are measures you can take to prevent your car having its number plates stolen. Anti-theft screws are now being freely distributed by many police forces to help prevent number plates being stolen and to raise awareness of the problem. The Metropolitan Police issue free anti-tamper security screws to London residents via their Safer Neighbourhood Teams. To discover if your local police authority is running a similar initiative, contact your crime reduction officer or local neighbourhood policing team.

Anti-Theft Number Plates

Some major number plate manufacturers are now producing anti-theft number plates which shatter if an attempt is made to remove them from the vehicle they are attached to. The manufacturers recommend motorists only have anti-theft number plates fitted by specially trained technicians, which may prove to be prohibitively expensive for most car owners. This article by the AA discusses the topic of anti-theft number plates in more detail.

What to do if Your Number Plates Have Already Been Stolen

If your vehicle’s number plates are stolen contact the police using the non-emergency 101 service. You should only ring 999 if a crime is in progress. If you subsequently receive parking fines and fixed penalty notices for motoring offences you have no knowledge of, return them to the issuing authority with a covering letter explaining what has happened. You should also write to DVLA to make them aware your vehicle may have been cloned. If you have a crime number from your local police force be sure to quote it in your letter. In extreme cases the DVLA may consider issuing your vehicle with a replacement registration mark. You do not need to report number plate theft to DVLA unless you subsequently receive driving fines and letters in the post.

Thames Valley Police kindly informed us that if you report your number plates stolen a marker will be placed against your vehicle registration on the police national computer (PNC). This effectively means any time you go past an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) camera, the police will be alerted and may stop your vehicle in an attempt to catch the cloned car.

The advice from Thames Valley Police is to make a note of the crime reference number given to you when you report the theft and keep it with you when you are driving. If you are stopped by the police you can then show the crime reference number which will help to identify you as the victim and not the criminal.

The Solution to the Problem

As always, prevention is better than the cure. Why not consider fitting anti-theft screws or tamper-proof number plates to your car? It is possible that number plate theft and car cloning is at the stage where car crime was in the 1980’s. Thanks to technology, improvements in vehicle security virtually eliminated the problem of easy-to-steal cars. Most modern cars can now only be stolen if a thief manages to get hold of the actual key.

We predict that eventually it will be the responsibility of all motor manufacturers to ensure anti-theft number plate measures are implemented at the design stage of their cars. This may mean tamper-proof screws are fitted as standard, or anti-theft number plates are supplied with all brand new cars. Until then it is the joint responsibility of the police, the government and car owners to ensure that the problem of number plate theft and car cloning does not spiral out of control.

14 replies
  1. Steph
    Steph says:

    I drove to Blackpool today parked my car in the car park, I came back and my back number plate was missing, my front one is still on my car. I don’t know if it had fell off or if it has been stolen! Can somebody please point me in the right direction as what to do next do I just buy a new one or do I need to phone the police or and DVLA.

  2. Thomas Reynolds
    Thomas Reynolds says:

    Since the new numberplate system came in (proving you own the vehicle) the cost of a single number plate has tripled, why should the motorist be asked to cover this bureaucracy cost when it clearly doesn’t work, you can just go onto ebay and have any plate you want made and posted for £5, if I was a victim of cloning I would be adding up all the time+costs involved and taking a small claims court action to try and recover my losses, I wouldnt be re-registering my vehicle either unless the new plates for my vehicle and 2 trailers+caravan were also being provided for free, just because someone insists that you were speeding/parking/or whatever else with only a photo that doesnt show you in it is no reason to readily hand over your hard earned cash and then try to get it back with months of hassle. If your a victim of cloning, remember YOUR the VICTIM, stand up for yourself and dont be a pussycat.

  3. James Saperia
    James Saperia says:

    Most number plate related offences carry a maximum fine of £1,000. I agree with your idea of stronger punishment; the challenge is convincing a court that an offender ‘knowingly’ used cloned number plates.

  4. David Henley
    David Henley says:

    What is the penalty for someone who knowingly uses a car with a cloned number plate? Surely if you make it so great that the crim is seriously worse off, say, loses his licence for six months, that would help.

  5. James Saperia
    James Saperia says:

    Hi John, I don’t believe it is written in law but it would be common courtesy to mention it.

  6. john
    john says:

    If number plates have been stolen is there a legal obligation to inform the buyer of your vehicle if you wish to sell it?

  7. James Saperia
    James Saperia says:

    Hi Richard, Thank you for sharing the details of your experience with our readers. Unfortunately there is very little you can do to prevent your car registration being cloned. It is likely your registration will now cause a hit on the ANPR system which may result in your car being stopped by the police in an attempt to catch the criminals. It would be useful if you had a crime reference number as it makes it much easier to prove to the police at the roadside that you are the victim. Please keep us updated and let us know if your request for a replacement registration number is approved.

  8. Richard
    Richard says:

    I recently had a visit from the police and they confirmed that my car has been cloned. I understand it has since been used in connection with a number of armed robberies and a number of driving offences (including failure to stop for the police).

    My plate wasn’t stolen but it appears they got a duplicate number plate having seen my car advertised for sale on the internet prior to me buying it earlier this year.

    I spoke to the DVLA and they have suggested that I write to them requesting a replacement registration number : Sensitive Casework, DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1ZZ. I am told that I should set out in my letter:

    – my full name, address, signature;
    – car make, model, registration;
    – how i came to find out that it has been cloned;
    – crime reference number (if I have one which I do not).

    They will take between 2-4 weeks to respond, but as James S said it is entirely at their discretion.

    I thought this may be useful, and am hopeful of a positive outcome but I’ll see how I get on in the coming weeks!

  9. James Saperia
    James Saperia says:

    Hi Chris, You only need to notify DVLA if you start to receive fines and letters in the post for motoring offences you didn’t commit, or if they relate to a vehicle that you do not own. If it is purely the theft of number plates you wish to report you should contact the police.

  10. James Saperia
    James Saperia says:

    Hi Chris, There is a customer enquiries number: 0300 790 6809. I am waiting for a response from the DVLA as to whether you need to notify them if your number plates are stolen. It seems policy may have changed, but as soon as I get a reply I will update this article.

  11. Chris Boswell
    Chris Boswell says:

    Please can you tell me where I can find the telephone number for DVLA to report stolen number plates.
    I have been on the phone and computor for hours.
    Help Help,Help,
    Thank you chris

  12. James Saperia
    James Saperia says:

    Hi Andy, DVLA may consider allocating a replacement registration but it is at their discretion. Have you thought about speaking to your local MP to see if they can help? Alternatively Not My Car may be able to offer some advice? Let us know how you get on.

  13. Andy
    Andy says:

    I was awoken in the middle of the night by the police as my car had been seized and impounded as it had been used in a crime, they basically came to arrest me, the legitimate owner, but seeing my actual car outside and it was clear it had been cloned.

    Since this I have been pulled up, and I don’t like it, I asked DVLA to replace my number plate and simply will not do it. I would have thought that flagging the cloned plate as false and reissuing a new plate would be better than leaving the original on the streets for these complete wastes of Police time (i.e. following pulling up, questioning and then having to file a report on a completely innocent person!!!!

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