Press Coverage

NotMyCar on the Paul Miller Show on BBC Radio Berkshire

29th February 2012

Want to hear my interview on car cloning on BBC Radio last night? Follow this link. Starts at 1:07.

NotMyCar talks to

How petrol thieves are risking your insurance

20th October 2011

By Lois Avery at

Bilking is the new buzz word in vehicle crime and refers to petrol theft. But experts say the criminals behind it pose much wider problems for everyday motorists.

Bilking: simply put, it means “to evade payment” and it’s happening more and more on petrol station forecourts in the UK as drivers turn to theft to escape the high price of fuel.

But bilking has hit the headlines more recently because the thieves targeting fuel pumps are also targeting number plates in an effort to pin their crime on other drivers.

Number-plate theft is not a new phenomenon for UK police forces: it’s estimated that 40,000 plates are stolen or cloned every year across the country, with up to 20,000 of those thefts happening within the London Metropolitan police area alone.

How it works

Thieves steal, or fraudulently clone, a number plate belonging to an existing road user.They then attach those plates to other cars, sometimes a very similar make or model to the original vehicle, and use it to commit various crimes. This can be anything from petrol theft, to car insurance fraud, to avoiding parking tickets or congestion charges.

Despite the widespread nature of this crime, it’s widely unreported, according to former Scotland Yard detective, Alan Hutchinson.

Widely unreported crime

Hutchinson, along with former Detective Inspector Alan Rice Smith, set up Not My Car - a company that offers a vehicle identity-theft service to help drivers who are left bewildered when they’re blamed for a crime they didn’t commit.

He says:  “The news has focused on petrol theft but it’s much more involved than that. That’s only a part of it.

“People don’t realise what a serious crime it is if their number plates go missing until they get a parking fine or their insurer says they were involved in an accident. We can draw lots of parallels with ID theft.”

Hutchinson recalls one case where a woman bought a second hand car, drove it to London and parked for the day.

When she returned it was gone with a notice saying it’d been seized by bailiffs. It cost her £1,200 to get it back, all because someone else had run up fines using her plates.

Similarly, other drivers find that their car insurance is invalid or their no-claims bonus is wiped out because they’re found to have been involved in an accident, when in fact it’s down to someone using their number plate.

How it affects your insurance

According to Hutchinson this type of crime is aligned with other types of vehicle fraud, such as insurance fraud, in what are known as fraud hotspots.

Bradford and other areas in the north of England, for example, have particularly high rates of uninsured drivers and insurance fraud, and the same applies to number-plate crime.

Another area particularly affected is Thames Valley. The local police force even offers prevention advice to drivers and local petrol-station owners.

Hutchinson adds: “For a victim, trying to convince an insurer that their vehicle has not been involved can be very difficult. That’s how we help, by using our detective skills.”

“What we’re trying to do is find a single point of contact with each major insurer who we can work with to settle these disputes.”

Unreliable statistics

One of the main problems in combatting number-plate theft is that it is unclear how serious the problem is.

“The Association of Chief Police Officers doesn’t have proper statistics on it. It used to go in the police crime system as ‘theft from a motor vehicle’.

“Then ACPO asked us to start recording theft of number plates separately but not every force adheres and there’s no central database,” says Hutchinson.

The most recent statistics are from Kent Police and indicate that from April 2008 to March 2009 a total of 1,144 number-plate thefts occurred across the county.

And in March last year, Angela Watkinson MP tabled a question in the Commons asking Paul Clark, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, if he would bring forward proposals to assist those whose vehicles have been illegally cloned.

But the response was the DVLA already has measures in place to deal with this.

How to avoid number-plate theft

The Labour government brought in a piece of legislation in 2001 that meant number plates needed to be registered with a postcode, and couldn’t be issued without the logbook for the vehicle.

Anti-theft number plates were also introduced in 2005 – they break up if they’re tampered with.

But Hutchinson says: “It’s very easy to get a number plate made without too much problem. People can order them on the internet and the police are aware of number-plate factories.”

However, to take precautions Thames Valley police say drivers should:

• Report the loss of number plates to the police as soon as possible.

• Fit theft-proof screws: “clutch head” screws are specially-designed to be virtually impossible to remove once they’ve been fitted.

• Special number plates are designed to break apart if they are forcibly removed from a vehicle.

NotMyCar features on BBC Wales X-ray

First T.V appearance!

BBC Wales 7.30pm TONIGHT (Monday 10th October) - NotMyCar's first TV appearance! Follow the link below and take the timer along the bottom of the video, to 11.24 to hear Alan Rice-Smith discussing the possible problems faced by victims of car identity theft....

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