What is car cloning?

Did you know that your car could be cloned by criminals? Here’s what you need to know about this modern-day crime, including what to do if your vehicle is cloned and how to avoid buying a cloned vehicle.

Did you know that your car could be cloned by criminals? Here’s what you need to know about this modern-day crime, including what to do if your vehicle is cloned and how to avoid buying a cloned vehicle.

Daniel Hutson
Head of Motor Insurance
6
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 27 JANUARY 2020 Last Updated 21 MARCH 2022

What is car cloning?

Car cloning – or vehicle identity theft – is when a car is given a copied or stolen number plate to make it look like another vehicle of the same make, model and colour. 

It’s like identity theft but for your car. It means that any crimes and offences committed using the cloned car will lead back to the owner of the legally registered licence plate and mask the identity of the true criminal. 

Criminals might use the car to commit a robbery or to avoid speeding fines and parking tickets. They might even use fake plates to sell a stolen car to an unsuspecting buyer.

How does car cloning work? 

To clone a car, criminals get a new number plate that matches the legally registered number plate of a vehicle of the same make, model and colour as the vehicle they’ve stolen or salvaged. That means there are now two vehicles on the road with the same registration number: the original, legally registered car, and the cloned car. 

Assuming the criminals choose a car that’s a good match, it's highly unlikely that this will come to the attention of the police. And if a cloned car is involved in a crime or the driver commits a traffic violation the authorities will be directed to the address of the legally registered owner of the car that’s been cloned – not the real criminal.

How do criminals clone a car? 

When you register ownership of a new number plate, you’ll go to a Registered Number Plate Supplier (RNPS) and show the vehicle’s V5C registration certificate and ID to prove that you’re the owner of the car. Criminals can get around this by:

  • Buying fake plates that mimic a real registration plate.
  • Going through unscrupulous online dealers who allow them to buy a real plate without giving the necessary evidence of ownership.
  • Stealing a registered licence plate from another vehicle. 

Sophisticated criminals can also take other steps to obscure the true identity of their vehicle, including making fraudulent registration documents, such as the car’s V5C log book. They could also change the vehicle’s identification number (VIN) by replacing parts of the car. Also known as the chassis number, this unique 17-digit number can be found on the frame of the vehicle and is like the vehicle’s fingerprint.

What happens if I buy a cloned car? 

If you buy a cloned car, you’re likely to lose both the car and the money you paid for it. The police will normally want to question you about the sale and get as much information from you about the seller as possible. 

If you’re buying a used car make sure you do all the necessary checks. If a car’s being sold without V5C registration documents or a service history, that’s a definite red flag. But these documents can be forged, so be vigilant.

In some cases, your insurance provider may be able to provide legal assistance to help you recover the money you paid for the car from the seller, but it depends on what is covered by your policy and if they expect any claim made to be successful.

How do I know if my car has been cloned? 

Normally you won’t know your car has been cloned until you get a visit from the police about a crime linked to your registration number, or you start receiving penalty notices about traffic offences or congestion charges you had nothing to do with. 

If your number plates are ever stolen, contact the police immediately. If you start receiving mysterious speeding tickets or parking fines, you could be the victim of a cloning scam.

What should I do if my car has been cloned? 

If you receive fines you know you don’t deserve, here’s what to do: 

  • Return any fines or notices to the relevant issuing authorities with any evidence you might have to prove the fines aren’t yours, such as CCTV footage, GPS data from your car or witness statements that prove you were not in the area at the time stated on the notice.
  • Let the police know so they can attempt to trace and prosecute the culprit.
  • Contact the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and explain the situation. Include the crime reference number given to you by police.
  • Contact your insurance provider to notify them that your car has been cloned. 

If your registration number has been cloned, you may want to get a new private registration number to avoid getting any other fines or penalty notices in the post in the future.

How can I avoid buying a cloned car? 

If you’re buying a used car, here’s what to look for: 

Is the car suspiciously cheap? If you come across a car that’s way below the market price, it should ring alarm bells.

Before you go to see a car, ask the seller for the registration number, make and model, and MOT test number. You can then check online to see if the details you’ve been given match DVLA information. If anything doesn’t match, it’s a good sign that something fishy is going on.

When you go to see the vehicle, a couple of simple checks will also help you avoid a cloned car: 

  • Check the logbook – the V5C vehicle registration certificate. Make sure the number plates in the document and on the car match. Check that it has the right 'DVL' watermark to prove that the logbook is genuine. 
    Look at the serial number. The DVLA advises that you should check that the number: "is not between BG8229501 to BG9999030, or BI2305501 to BI2800000. If it is, the V5C might be stolen – call the police as soon as it’s safe to do so."
  • Ask to view the car at the address listed on the logbook and when you get there, check it’s the same one.
  • Check the vehicle identification number (VIN) and engine number and make sure these match the logbook. The VIN is usually stamped into the chassis of the vehicle, on the bonnet, the dashboard and the driver’s door. 

Even if all looks good on the surface, just to be sure, never pay for a car with cash. If you use a bank transfer or other traceable payment method, it will be easier for the police to track down the fraudster responsible if the car turns out to be stolen after all.

Frequently asked questions

Can a personalised licence plate be cloned?

Yes, just as with automatically assigned number plates, private or personalised plates can be cloned. However, distinctive personalised licence plates may be less likely to be cloned because of how much they stand out.

What should I do if my number plates are stolen?

Firstly, report the theft to the police. This will alert them to the fact that your licence number may be used on a cloned vehicle and help you avoid any uncomfortable questioning in the future if a car with your licence plate is involved in a crime. Next, contact the DVLA to notify them that your plates have been stolen and may have been cloned. If the police are unable to help you locate the cloned car, you will probably need to buy new licence plates.

What should I do if I suspect someone of selling a cloned vehicle?

Never buy a vehicle if you believe it may have been cloned. If the car has been stolen you will lose the car and you may not be able to get back the money you paid for it. If you suspect someone of selling a stolen vehicle, contact the police as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Looking for a quote?

Compare quotes with us today and see if you can start saving.

Get a quote
Compare car insurance Get a quote