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Could this car be cloned?Cloning is the illegal practice of removing the number plates from a stolen, written-off or otherwise damaged vehicle and replacing them with ones taken from a car with the same make, model and colour. The 'cloned' car is then passed off as the vehicle whose number plates it has been given.

Should you be one of the unfortunates who mistakenly purchase a cloned car, the outcome is bleak. In the end you will lose the car you just bought, and unless the criminals who sold you the vehicle can be found, you'll most likely lose all the money you paid for it. Checking a potential used car purchase thoroughly is the best way to make sure you don't end up with a dodgy vehicle.

There a couple of reasons why criminals go to the effort of cloning a car. Firstly, is to give a stolen vehicle a 'clean' identity, appropriated from the car whose number plates have been taken. A vehicle in this condition is more likely to be sold to an unsuspecting buyer. Criminals may also clone a car to avoid fines and other costs. If the clones vehicle gets a speeding fine or a parking ticket, the fine is sent to the person who owns the number plates that the car has hijacked.

The number plates that cloned cars use can come from a couple of sources. They may specially manufactured by specialised printers or craftsmen. There are many business out there who are legally allowed to manufacture number plates, but that doesn't mean that other unscrupulous traders can't produce them too. An imitation number plate may look legit whilst a car is travelling, but closer inspection usually reveals them to be fake. Another source of number plates is of course ones actually stolen from existing cars.

When buying a second hand vehicle you should keep your eyes open for a number of signals that the car may be cloned. A sound used vehicle should come with a decent amount of paperwork, and this includes the V5C certificate, bills for any work done, and a service history. An older car with a deficit of paperwork should immediately be ringing alarm bells. The presence of a V5C certificate can't be taken as 100% proof of legitimacy, as such paperwork can be forged too.

Since the end of 2010, all V5C certificates have had a red colour, and there should now be no more blue V5C documents doing the rounds. Should a car you're looking at have the old style blue V5C this is a pretty accurate sign that something is amiss.

An HPI or car data check is a good option to check the legal status of a vehicle you're looking at. They will be able to give you the VIN number of the car that matches the number plate you enter, which can be checked to make sure the vehicle you're looking at is in fact the one registered to those plates. If a car owner has reported their number plates as stolen, the car check may pick up that the police are looking for it.

What to do if your number plates are stolen

Should the worst happen and you wake up one morning and notice your number plates have been pinched, it is best to inform the police straight away. This advice also stands should you start receiving fixed penalty notices or notifications of speeding fines through the post, but have not been to the places listed in the documents.

Car cloning and the use of fake licence plates is a pretty rare practice, but the ramifications should you buy a cloned car make it well worth checking a vehicle thoroughly before you buy it. If the deal sounds to good to be true or they're selling for well below market rates, then there is probably something up.

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