Car cloning

How to avoid vehicle identity theft

Protect yourself when you're looking for a used car

Sometimes one car is given the identity of another by replacing the number plates with those from an almost identical vehicle – same make, model and colour.

If you are unfortunate enough to 'buy' a cloned vehicle then you will lose both the car and any money paid for it so it's important check out any car you're thinking of buying carefully and to walk away if you suspect anything may be wrong.

Cloning is done either to mask the true identity of a stolen vehicle or, more basically, to avoid parking tickets, speeding fines, congestion charges and the like – the 'ticket' would be sent to the keeper of the vehicle from which the identity was stolen.

Number plates may be physically stolen or purchased from unscrupulous suppliers in which case the thieves don't ever have to touch the car being cloned.

If your number plates are stolen

If your number plates are stolen or you start to get parking tickets or fines for places you've not been then it's important to report it to the police/authorities straight away.

If you're buying a used car, be particularly wary of anything being sold without a V5C registration document and service history (garage bills etc) consistent with the vehicle's age.

Even with a V5C you need to be wary as these can be forged and should not be considered absolute proof of who 'owns' the vehicle.

New look V5C

DVLA started issuing new look red V5Cs from late 2010 and by the end of September 2012 there should be no legitimate blue V5C registration documents still in circulation.

Check through all documents to make sure they tell a consistent story and that documents match the vehicle. Consider getting the car professionally inspected for peace of mind.

Get a car data check

The AA Car Data Check can offer protection against buying a cloned car, provided that you buy carefully and follow these rules:

  • Make sure you provide the VIN and the V5C/logbook serial number and issue date on your AA Car Data Check so that it can confirm the details are legitimate. Make sure all these details on the vehicle also match the results of the Car Data Check and the contents on the V5C/logbook.
  • Always view and buy from the registered keeper's address as shown on the V5C/logbook – not from a car park, motorway service area, lay-by etc. If you’re buying privately, check the details of who you are buying from carefully, and confirm who they are with proof of identity. A driving licence or passport is ideal. Genuine people don’t mind purchasers carefully checking. Don’t be tempted to attend anywhere else or speak to anyone other than the person listed on the V5C/logbook, however plausible their explanation maybe.
  • Use a traceable payment method and don’t pay cash. If the worst happened at least the person you paid may be found.
  • Don't pay less than 70% of the market value of the vehicle. If it’s too good to be true, it may well be.
  • Make sure you get a proper receipt for the purchase, detailing the vehicle, price, and the sellers details.

If you follow these rules and the remaining terms and conditions, and you are still unlucky enough to buy a cloned vehicle, the AA Car Data Check offers cover up to £30,000, as part of its guarantee.

(updated 19 September 2016)

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