What is car cloning? Buyers beware of this scam

What is car cloning? Buyers beware of this scam
Car cloning is a growing concern for motorists, with some figures estimating a 50% rise in the number of cases between 2016 and 2017.

Cloning is a very real problem that could not only leave you thousands of pounds out of pocket, but also see you wrongly accused of a serious crime.

But what is car cloning, and how you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim? Here’s our guide to everything you need to know.

Guide contents

 


What is car cloning?

Car cloning is an illegal practice whereby criminals steal the identity of a legally registered vehicle and use it to hide the identity of a stolen or salvaged vehicle, which is often similar in model and appearance.  

Criminals then either attempt to sell the cloned vehicle or use it to carry out further crimes, ranging from motoring offences like speeding and parking illegally, to more serious crimes like ram-raiding and hit and runs.

If the cloned car is caught breaking the law, or involved in unlawful activity, these offences will often be attributed to the owner of the car that has been cloned.

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How does car cloning work?

In order to clone a vehicle and hide the identity of a stolen or salvaged car, criminals either steal the number plates off a legally registered vehicle or, more commonly, have fake plates illegally produced.

These illegal plates are then attached to the stolen vehicle, meaning there are two vehicles with identical number plates on the road at the same time — one legal and the other illegally cloned.

If criminals try to sell the cloned car on to unsuspecting motorists, they may also produce fake car registration documents, such as the V5C Logbook, and could even alter the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).

On occasion, it can be almost impossible to tell if a vehicle has been cloned, especially if its VIN has been skillfully altered in each location.

What is a Vehicle Identification Number?

A VIN is a 17-digit number that identifies one specific vehicle, acting as a vehicle’s fingerprint because no two vehicles are produced with the same VIN.

A car’s VIN displays unique details of the vehicle, including the manufacturer and other specifications, and can be used to track all registrations, warranty claims, thefts and insurance policies taken out against the vehicle in question.

The VIN can be found on a metal plate under the bonnet, on the dashboard of the vehicle and driver’s door post and the number should always match the VIN in the vehicle title, V5C logbook and insurance premium.

How do I know if my car’s been cloned?

Unfortunately, unless your number plates have been physically stolen from your vehicle, you might have no idea your car’s been cloned until you receive a Penalty Charge Notice or fine for a motoring offence you didn’t commit.

In more serious circumstances, you might even be visited by the police if the cloned vehicle has been involved in a serious crime and the authorities believe you’re responsible.

What should I do if I think my car’s been cloned?

If you’re being accused of offences you haven’t committed and are worried your car’s been cloned, the first thing you should do is contact the organisation issuing the fines and explain your situation to stop them from pursuing the case.

Next, you should contact both the police and Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and tell them you think your number plate has been cloned, providing them with all the relevant information you can.

If you’re an RAC member and worried your car’s been cloned, you can call our 24/7 Legal Helpline on 0330 159 1446 for free advice and support.

If you have our Legal Care Plus legal expenses insurance policy and have been charged with a motoring offence which you did not commit, we can provide specialist representation to help fight your case as part of the Legal Defence section of your cover.

This allows you to take advantage of up to £25,000 worth of legal costs protection, although there must be reasonable prospects of success in defending your claim.

How can I avoid buying a cloned car?

If you’re in the market for a used car and are worried about unknowingly purchasing a cloned vehicle, there are certain things you should remember when buying to help protect yourself against scams.

Firstly, ask the seller for details of the car — the registration number and make and model of the car — before you meet them and run these through the DVLA’s free, online vehicle enquiry service.

When inspecting the car, make sure all the VINs on the vehicle match each other and those in the V5C logbook, and always try to see the car at the address on the logbook, and not a layby or service station.

Check the car’s market value before engaging with the seller — if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always use a traceable payment method instead of cash when completing the purchase as well.

For more information on a car’s history, you can also take advantage of an instant RAC Vehicle History Check. This can provide you with details on whether the car has been scrapped or stolen as well as giving you relevant market valuations which could better equip you to challenge any discrepancies in the story of a dodgy seller.

What should I do if I’ve bought a cloned car?

If you’ve unknowingly bought a cloned car then unfortunately it’s highly likely you will lose both the car and the money you paid for it.

If you have our Legal Care Plus legal expenses insurance policy and believe you have purchased a cloned vehicle, we may be able to assist you as part of the Motor Vehicle Consumer Disputes section of your cover, if the seller is traceable.

This allows you to take advantage of up to £5,000 of legal costs whereby we will look to provide you with specialist representation to help fight your case and claim compensation from the seller of the vehicle. There must be reasonable prospects of success in pursuing your claim.

Even if you are unable to get your money back, you can help police trace these car cloning criminals by providing as much information as you can to help make sure other motorists aren’t similarly stung.

Did you know, you can get fined for moving out of the way of an ambulance?

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^10% of all customers buying Car Insurance Plus with us from 1st January 2021 to 30th June 2021 paid less than £151. Based on comprehensive Car Insurance Plus, purchased direct, excluding any additional products and upgrades, with payment on an annual basis. Your premium will depend on your circumstances and the level of cover you choose.