Across the country, 500 number plates are stolen every week leaving many motorists facing penalty notices and boxing in for crimes they haven’t committed. The ordeal of recovery and the fines and penalty notices that have to be contested has been described as “incredibly upset[ting]” by one person involved.

Last year 25,000 numberplates were taken from cars, and the figure this year has already reached 22,000 as released by the AA under a Freedom of Information request. Police are now urging drivers to report stolen plates immediately in order to aid investigation and to prevent further accusation of innocent drivers.

Technology increasing theft

Motorists across the country have received numerous penalty notices, fines and more for crimes they haven’t committed as criminal gangs steal and use the number plates to avoid getting convicted for crimes.

Criminals, both individuals and organised gangs, have taken numberplates to conceal crimes such as stealing petrol from forecourts, known as bilking, or reckless driving. Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras only pick up the number plate, as suggested by the name, so any theft, even if its only one plate, should be reported to police.

Advances in ANPR technology mean that numberplate theft is on the rise, Sheffield County noted an increase of 36% from 2013 to 2017 in theft, taking it from 501 thefts in 2013 to 680 in 2017.

Since the introduction and national adoption of ANPR technologies, starting in 2005, stolen number plates value has increased drastically as criminals try to avoid prosecution. Nationwide thefts have risen by 76% since 2005 when the BBC reported a rise in number plate theft, and since then theft has increased risen by approximately 800 thefts annually. Back in 2005, 14,176 number plate thefts were recorded, and the figure of near 25,000 this year is a monumental increase over time.

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA said; “While a small percentage of the UK’s national vehicles suffer the inconvenience and frustration of having their number plate stolen, it is an incredibly serious issue.

Stolen plates are often cloned and put onto other vehicles. These are then used to cover up further criminal activity, such as selling stolen cars or burglary. Other instances of criminality under stolen plates include ram raids and even not paying congestion charges.

More than a quarter (28%) of drivers say that if one plate were missing from their vehicle, they wouldn’t report it to the police. Drivers should report any number plate theft as the innocent victim could end up receiving speeding tickets and other traffic fines.”

“A horrible experience”

One driver who was the victim of plate cloning had her car boxed in, while driving on the M1. Tia Kinnard from Dunstable described the ordeal as “a horrible experience.” After the mishap was cleared up, it came to light that a gang had cloned her number plates and used them for numerous burglaries in and around London.

Meanwhile, in Brighton and Hove, Mariam Castle was the victim of number plate theft when the plates were stolen off her VW Polo. While she reported the stolen plates to the police immediately, she received two Penalty Charge Notices (PCN) for driving in bus lanes and had to contest the fines in a lengthy process.

She said: ‘It really shook me up, receiving those penalty notices. Finally, they were dropped, but it was a lot of hassle, and the whole ordeal left me incredibly upset.’

What can you do?

In some cases, there is very little that the motorist can do.

In older cars where the number plate is stuck on with double-sided tape, it is best to add in anti-theft screws to put off thieves initially, as they will be less likely to steal plates that are more secured, the risk of them being noticed is much higher.

Anti-theft number plates are also available to buy. Launched back in 2006 by the then Transport Minister, Stephen Ladyman, they are designed to shatter into pieces upon removal, making them unusable by criminals.

Inspector Craig Clifton, from South Yorkshire Police’s Roads Policing Group, said: “The reason criminals steal number plates, and quite possibly the reason numbers of reported thefts have risen, is because of the advancement in ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) technology. Number plates are stolen for a variety of reasons to mask criminality.

In order to protect your number plate, if it isn’t permanently affixed to the vehicle then it’s vulnerable and because we change plates generally they are not a permanent fixture.

All people can do is make the plates harder to remove, so ensure they are screwed on with anti-theft screws rather than affixed with double-sided tape.

You could also use anti-theft number plates which break upon removal. It’s worth trying to park in less conspicuous areas to make it harder for criminals to hide while removing the plates.”

Have you ever been affected by stolen number plates? Do you think more should be done to protect drivers from this? Let us know below

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