Thousands of motorists could be at risk of having their number plates cloned or stolen, and if they’re a victim could face fines, speeding tickets or even be accused of criminal activity.

A recent poll by Halfords found that 85% of drivers don’t know what documents they need to provide when buying a number plate. It also found that one in 20 motorists admitted to previously buying an illegal number plate from an unregistered supplier.

Rob Laugharne, legal expert and Group Legal Director of Hills, the UK’s market leader in supply of legal number plates says: “Cloning of number plates is a major problem in the UK.  Unfortunately under current regulations it is incredibly easy for criminals to clone plates.  This obviously hinders the police in preventing and reducing crime, but it can also have some very distressing consequences for the innocent victims.

Not only are there the direct consequences such as receiving speeding tickets, parking fines and unpaid toll bills but it may also lead to time off work to appeal fines and liaise with the DVLA to obtain a new number plate.

Most cloned plates come from unregistered illegitimate suppliers.  Unsurprisingly these suppliers not only ignore the regulations around verification of entitlement they also ignore the associated quality standards.

Motorists need to be aware that this has consequences for them.  Even if they attempt to buy a genuine replacement number plate for their own vehicle they run the risk of receiving a £1,000 fine if that number plate does not conform to the relevant standards.

Whilst we are working with the authorities to change the current system and make it harder for illegitimate suppliers to operate, we would urge all motorists to do what they can and buy their number plates from a legitimate supplier such as Halfords.  That is the only way to guarantee quality and conformity but will also help us clamp down on cloned plates suppliers.”

Katie Sexton, Halfords’ number plate expert says: “We believe  more should be done to prevent retailers and online sites from selling licence plates without requesting proof of identity and entitlement.

“This method is one of the best ways of ensuring the safety and security of all motorists. Failure to make these checks can lead to companies producing plates with numbers that the buyers have no right to use, leaving them free to drive a vehicle bearing the identity of someone else’s car.

“Cloned number plates are being increasingly used by rogue drivers and criminals and means many motorists are at risk of being victims of fraud and car crime.”

Halfords makes over 450,000 licence plates every year. These all require proof of identity and entitlement at the point of purchase.

Halfords contacted 49 of the UK’s police forces using Freedom of Information and found that incidents of number plate crime rose by 18% between 2016, and 2017, according to data provided by UK police forces.

Several areas in the UK showed particularly dramatic rises in number plate crime. Warwickshire, Dorset, Gwent and Northumbria were all the highest, increasing by 179%, 161%, 96%, and 94%, respectively.

By contrast, other areas went in the opposite direction. Hertfordshire, Thames Valley and Lancashire were all areas with significant decreases. However, the two largest were in Scotland: Argyll and West Dunbartonshire’s statistics fell by 43%, and the Forth Valley’s dropped by 80%.

In fact, England differed to Scotland dramatically across the board. While figures for England rose by 22%, Scotland’s increased narrowly by just 3%.

Halfords tips to help motorists avoid number plate fraud:

It’s important to always purchase your number plates from a registered supplier, like Halfords. You should be asked to prove your name, your address and your right to use the registration number when you ask for a new number plate to be made. Failure to make these checks can lead to companies producing number plates that the buyer has no right to use, leaving them free to drive a vehicle bearing the identity of someone else’s car

If you think or suspect that you are a victim of number plate cloning contact the police and DVLA straight away, and always get your plates made by a registered reputable company