License plates on cars and other vehicles serve an important purpose—they pick out one specific vehicle for official purposes like insurance, sale, and issuing speeding tickets. Or at least, this is how things are supposed to be.
For every law there is at least one way for less reputable individuals to make money breaking it, and if they’re making money then someone else is losing it, and if you’re not aware of how illegal use of number plates could affect you that someone could be you. So here are a couple of major examples:
One reason a scammer or other criminal might change a car’s plates is to hide its identity. This can be for any number of reasons—for example, if the car is stolen, altering its plates will at least stop it registering as such under automatic number plate recognition, and so throw the police off the scent. They might also want to hide incidents in the car’s past like accidents.
This kind of illegal use of number plates will only affect you if you are looking to buy the vehicle in question, but the possibility of getting saddled with an inferior or even illegal product is reason enough to be wary of it. Fortunately you can look into a car’s history (either of number plates or in general) using an HPI check.
If the car has simply had a personalised plate put on, and the seller has been open about this and the details they’ve given you match up with the history revealed by the check, there’s nothing to worry about, but if there are any inconsistencies you could be dealing with a fraudster and should be very cautious about how you proceed.
This is where a vehicle is illegally given a set of plates imprinted with a license plate number that’s already in use. That’s right, it’s identity theft for cars. This is a popular way to disguise vehicles with shady histories but it can have other insidious effects.
A cloned plate means there are two vehicles out in the world with the same number plates, but the number in question is of course only registered to the legal owner with the DVLA. That means if the cloned vehicle gets into an accident or incurs a speeding ticket, it is not the offending party but an innocent citizen—one that could be you—who stands to bear the consequences. There has been an increase in the number of such incidents lately, so the possibility is real.
If you are contacted about an incident you don’t know about, talk to the police right away.