Stolen number plates: The law and what to do if yours is cloned

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a KTM 1050 Adventure. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty, bumpy backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

Stolen number plates: The law and what to do if yours is cloned

 

29,256 vehicle registration plates were revealed to have been stolen in just one year, which goes some way to explaining why a surprising number of law-abiding riders and drivers have been accused of offences they didn’t commit, in places they were nowhere near at the time. BikeSocial explains what to do if you think your number plate has been cloned, and what the law is for registrations in the UK.

BikeSocial’s vehicle crime consultant and ex-Flying Squad officer, Dr Ken German, told us that the report, which was put together after a freedom of information request by the AA, did not include the number plates obtained illegally from unauthorised manufacturers (using the registration of a legitimate vehicle), or the registration plates that were simply altered to deceive. A very conservative estimate would easily treble the number of vehicles displaying ‘wrong’ plates on the road, to around 90,000 vehicles.

This request was not vehicle specific, but Dr German says that a conservative estimate suggests there are around 10,000 motorcycles and mopeds on our roads with false plates right now.

“Nearly 80% of all crimes in the UK involve a vehicle in some respect,” says Dr German, “even if it simply transports the criminals to and from the scene of a crime, which of course can range from burglary, robbery and assault, to evading a parking charge, a speeding ticket and – more common perhaps – allowing uninsured and untaxed rogue drivers to have any offence notice they incur sent to the real registered owner.

“Clearly, with so many CCTV and ANPR cameras around, today’s criminals often need to hide their vehicles in plain sight using the existing identity of a similar motorcycle or car, so they won’t be placed at the scene of a crime.

“Many examples of cameras recording the registration number of vehicles speeding at 100mph on the M6 in Birmingham for instance, are later discovered to belong to a farm tractor in Cornwall or a bus in Dundee!

“These anomalies, where a vehicle clearly on false plates has passed an ANPR camera, are usually noted on the police national computer (PNC) as illegal activity, and should that vehicle be subsequently stopped then all of the sightings would be collated, the rider/driver interviewed, and if responsible, dealt with accordingly.”

 

Quick index:

What if someone steals your license plate?
How do I know if someone’s cloned my number plate?
How do I stop my number plate being cloned or stolen?
How do I know if the bike or car I’m buying has a cloned or stolen number plate?
What’s the fine for a false number plate?
Where can I buy number plates without documents?
What number plates are legal?
Do motorbikes have front number plates?
Are black and white number plates legal on my classic bike?
Are 3D number plates legal?
What is the standard size of a number plate?
Can I put my own logo or flag on the number plate?
What’s the fine for an illegal number plate?
What do the letters on a number plate mean?
What year is a reg?

 

What if someone steals your license plate?

It’s very important that anyone who loses a number plate – whether it’s clearly been stolen, or you think it could have fallen off – contacts the police immediately. “This could help should a summons, parking or speeding fine be received later,” says Dr Ken German. “In that event, the correspondence received should be returned to the sender with a covering letter providing them with any documentary evidence that may be required to prove the case. Evidence could include proof of your location at the time of the incident, as well as clear photographs of your bike or car, showing all sides and the number plate itself, with the manufacturer’s details – most photographs taken by ANPR and other roadside cameras are of good enough quality now to identify small differences such as damage, alterations, stickers etc, and have been found ideal to establish your innocence. Or prove your guilt.

“It is also important to write to the DVLA address at DVLA, Swansea SA99 1ZZ, regarding the circumstances of the wrongful allegation, so a record will be kept for future reference.

“It remains the responsibility of a vehicle’s registered keeper to satisfy the issuer of any offence notice that it was not them – or their vehicle – at the time and place where the alleged offence occurred.”

 

How do I know if someone’s cloned my number plate?

Criminals will generally look for a bike or car of the same model and colour as the one they have, then get a number plate made to match it.

Unfortunately, the first you’re likely to hear of your number plate being cloned is when you receive a fine or notice of intended prosecution. Again, you’ll need to write to the issuer with any evidence showing that it couldn’t have been you.

 

How do I stop my number plate being cloned or stolen?

If you’re selling your bike, it’s worth covering the number plate as it’s an easy way for crooks to find the machines they’re looking for. BikeSocial’s own publisher was the victim of registration cloning after his bike appeared in a magazine he used to work for.

There’s not much you can do to prevent it being stolen, besides making sure the bike or car is clearly visible to others (so someone tampering with it is obvious), or not easily accessible, and that the plates are well secured, perhaps by using security screws.  

 

How do I know if the bike or car I’m buying has a cloned or stolen number plate?

It’s more likely that cloned or stolen plates will be used on vehicles in criminal activities like robberies, or to avoid prosecution through speeding etc, but ringing does still happen, so as always, carefully check the frame/chassis and engine numbers of any bike or car you’re buying against the V5 to make sure it’s what it says it is.

 

What’s the fine for a false number plate?

Riding a bike or driving a car with a stolen or cloned number plate is fraud, and could lead to anything from a community order to a substantial fine and a prison sentence. Disqualification from riding or driving, as well as having your vehicle seized are additional possibilities.

 

Where can I buy number plates without documents?

The law demands that legally-obtained registration plates should be purchased from an authorised dealer or legitimate outlet only – a Registered Number Plate Supplier (RNPS). You can find details of legal suppliers at www.gov.uk/displaying-number-plates.

The RNPS will need to confirm your name and address, as well as your entitlement to the registration number by producing at least one document from each of the three lists below (all documents must be originals):

 

Document proving entitlement to the registration number

• Vehicle Registration Certificate (V5C)

• New keeper’s details section (V5C/2) of the V5C

• Certificate of Entitlement (V750)

• Retention Document (V778)

• Reminder to get vehicle tax or make a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) (V11) or (V11(NI))

• Temporary Registration Certificate (V379)

• Number Plate Authorisation Certificate (V948/EV948) with an official DVLA stamp

• Letter of authorisation from a fleet operator, lease company or hire company (the letter must quote the document reference number from the V5C, not the vehicle identification number).

 

Document confirming your name and address

• Driving licence, with or without a photo, whether or not it was issued in the United Kingdom

• Electricity, gas, water or landline phone bill, council tax bill or Northern Ireland rates bill issued within the last six months

• Bank or building society statement issued within the last six months

• National identity card issued by the government of a state or territory other than the United Kingdom.

 

Document to confirm your name only

• Passport (whether or not it was issued in the United Kingdom)

• Debit card or credit card issued by a bank or building society

• Police warrant card

• Armed forces identity card.

 

Car and motorcycle thieves simply make their own false registration plates using details copied from similar vehicles observed on the road and online, and it’s only if or when these cloned vehicles are stopped by the police in suspicious circumstances, that the fake plates and previous activities of the vehicle are found.

There’s also the availability of so-called ‘show plates’, which are offered on the pretence of being only for use off the road. However, some sellers will still include a British Standards number, and make sure the number plate looks correct for use on the highway, while only asking for the address at which the payment card is registered. We’ve contacted the DVLA to ask why this loop hole exists, but have yet to receive a comment.

 

What number plates are legal?

Legally, manufactured number plates must have the details of the plate’s manufacturer, or a dealer’s name on them. The theft of these originals is favoured by criminals wishing to clone expensive vehicles in order to cloak them with some authenticity, as opposed to those using vehicles simply to commit crime.

Any UK vehicle’s number plates must:

• Be made of a reflective material

• Display black characters on a yellow background on the back of the vehicle

• Display black characters on a white background on the front of the vehicle

• Not have a patterned background

 

Do motorbikes have front number plates?

Motorcycles and motor tricycles registered before 1 September 2001 are allowed to display a front number plate, but it’s not a requirement. Those registered after this date must ONLY show a plate on the rear, so no, you can’t convert your new Triumph to a retro-look with a front plate.

Quads do have to display plates at the front and rear; if they make less than 20bhp, and have a maximum un-laden weight of 400kg (550kg if it’s a goods vehicle), the plates can meet the spec of motorcycles, otherwise they have to be the same as car plates.

 

Are black and white number plates legal on my classic bike?

Any vehicle built before 1 January 1973 is allowed to use black and white number plates, and since legislation changed in April 2018, any vehicle made before 1 January 1978 can also use these old-style plates, but you must:

• Have applied to the DVLA

• Have registered the vehicle in the ‘Historic Vehicles’ tax class.

Motorcycles and cars built 40 or more years ago (it rolls forward on the 1 April each year) are exempt from vehicle tax.

It is illegal to have black and white number plates on a vehicle that was built after 1978.

 

Are 3D number plates legal?

Characters on a number plate are allowed to be 3D, but they must be the correct size on the correct material.

 

What is the standard size of a number plate?

The British Standard number BS AU 145d, which should be displayed on all number plates (along with the postcode and name, trademark or other way of identifying the manufacturer, spells out the specification for all number plates.

On all motorcycles registered on or after 1 January 1973, the characters on the number plate must run over two lines. Tricycles made from four-wheeled vehicle bodies need to use car-style number plates, while trikes based on a motorcycle use bike number plates.

 

DVLA motorcycle number plate specifications:

• Characters must be 64mm tall

• Characters (except the number 1 or letter I) must be 44mm wide

• The character stroke (the thickness of the black print) must be 10mm

• The space between characters must be 10mm

• The space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 30mm

• The margins at the top, bottom and side of the plate must be at least 11mm

• The vertical space between the age identifier and the random numbers must be 13mm.

 

Motorcycle plates use smaller characters than those on cars…

DVLA car number plate specifications:

• Characters must be 79mm tall

• Characters (except the number 1 or letter I) must be 50mm wide

• Character stroke (the thickness of the black print) must be 14mm

• Space between characters must be 11mm

• Space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 33mm

• Margins at the top, bottom and side of the plate must be 11mm

• Vertical space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 19mm.

 

For more information on the rules for number plates, click here.

 

Can I put my own logo or flag on the number plate?

According to the law, you can have the number plate without a logo, or with the European symbol. You can also have the Union Flag, St George’s Cross, Scottish Saltire or red dragon of Wales. You can NOT put a random logo on, or any other flag, and while a plate with the Union Flag and ‘GB’ on will be legal overseas, you still need to use a GB sticker when travelling. For more information, click here.

 

What’s the fine for an illegal number plate?

If your number plate is too small, or in some other way doesn’t meet the requirements of the current British Standard, you could face a fine of up to £1,000 and three points on your licence.

 

What do the letters on a number plate mean?

The current registration format was introduced on 1 September 2001. The first two letters are a ‘DVLA memory tag’, which gives the location the vehicle was registered. The next two digits are the numbers that represent the age, while the final three are random. Q plates are still available, but you’ll never find a ‘Q’ or an ‘I’ or a ‘Z’ in the memory tag, and you’ll only find ‘Z’ in the random letters.

Letter

 

Postal area

DVLA memory tag identifier

A

Anglia

Peterborough

Norwich

Ipswich

AA AB AC AD AE AF AG AH AJ AK AL AM AN

AO AP AR AS AT AU

AV AW AX AY

B

Birmingham

Birmingham

BA – BY

C

Cymru

Cardiff

Swansea

Bangor

CA CB CC CD CE CF CG CH CJ CK CL CM CN CO CP CR CS CT CU CV

CW CX CY

D

Deeside to Shrewsbury

Chester

Shrewsbury

DA DB DC DD DE DF DG DH DJ DK

DL DM DN DO DP DR DS DT DU DV DW DX DY

E

Essex

Chelmsford

EA – EY

F

Forest & Fens

Nottingham

Lincoln

FA FB FC FD FE FF FG FH FJ FK FL FM FN FP

FR FS FT FV FW FX FY

G

Garden of England

Maidstone

Brighton

GA GB GC GD GE GF GG GH GJ GK GL GM GN GO

GP GR GS GT GU GV GW GX GY

H

Hampshire & Dorset

Bournemouth

Portsmouth

HA HB HC HD HE HF HG HH HJ

HK HL HM HN HO HP HR HS HT HU HV HW HX HY (HW exclusively for Isle of Wight residents)

K

Milton Keynes

Borehamwood

Northampton

KA KB KC KD KE KF KG KH KJ KK KL

KM KN KO KP KR KS KT KU KV KW KX KY

L

London

Wimbledon

Borehamwood

Sidcup

LA LB LC LD LE LF LG LH LJ

LK LL LM LN LO LP LR LS LT

LU LV LW LX LY

M

Manchester & Merseyside

Manchester

MA – MY (MN + MAN Reserved for Isle of Man)

N

North Newcastle

Stockton

NA NB NC ND NE NG NH NJ NK NL NM NN NO NP NR NS NT NU NV NW NX NY

O

Oxford

Oxford

OA – OY

P

Preston

Preston

 

Carlisle

PA PB PC PD PE PF PG PH PJ PK PL PM PN PO PP PR PS PT

PU PV PW PX PY

R

Reading

Theale

RA – RY

S

Scotland

Glasgow

Edinburgh

Dundee

Aberdeen

Inverness

SA SB SC SD SE SF SG SH SJ

SK SL SM SN SO

SP SR SS ST

SU SV SW

SX SY

V

Severn Valley

Worcester

VA – VY

W

West of England

Exeter

Truro

Bristol

WA WB WC WD WE WF WG WH WJ

WK WL

WM WN WO WP WR WS WT WU WV WW WX WY

Y

Yorkshire

Leeds

Sheffield

Beverley

YA YB YC YD YE YF YG YH YJ YK

YL YM YN YO YP YR YS YT YU

YV YW YX YY

 

What year is a reg?

The new age identifier system runs from its inception in 2001, and will continue until all possible variations have been used…

Date

Code

Date

Code

Sept 2001 – Feb 2002

51

March 2002 – Aug 2002

02

Sept 2002 – Feb 2003

52

March 2003 – Aug 2003

03

Sept 2003 – Feb 2004

53

March 2004 – Aug 2004

04

Sept 2004 – Feb 2005

54

March 2005 – Aug 2005

05

Sept 2005 – Feb 2006

55

March 2006 – Aug 2006

06

Sept 2006 – Feb 2007

56

March 2007 – Aug 2007

07

Sept 2007 – Feb 2008

57

March 2008 – Aug 2008

08

Sept 2008 – Feb 2009

58

March 2009 – Aug 2009

09

Sept 2009 – Feb 2010

59

March 2010 – Aug 2010

10

Sept 2010 – Feb 2011

60

March 2011 – Aug 2011

11

Sept 2011 – Feb 201

61

March 2012 – Aug 2012

12

Sept 2012 – Feb 2013

62

March 2013 – Aug 2013

13

Sept 2013 – Feb 2014

63

March 2014 – Aug 2014

14

Sept 2014 – Feb 2015

64

March 2015 – Aug 2015

15

Sept 2015 – Feb 2016

65

March 2016 – Aug 2016

16

Sept 2016 – Feb 2017

66

March 2017 – Aug 2017

17

Sept 2017 – Feb 2018

67

March 2018 – Aug 2018

18

Sept 2018 – Feb 2019

68

March 2019 – Aug 2019

19

Sept 2019 – Feb 2020

69

March 2020 – Aug 2020

20

Sept 2020 – Feb 2021

70

March 2021 – Aug 2021

21

Sept 2021 – Feb 2022

71

March 2022 – Aug 2022

22

Sept 2022 – Feb 2023

72

March 2023 – Aug 2023

23

Sept 2023 – Feb 2024

73

March 2024 – Aug 2024

24

Sept 2024 – Feb 2025

74

March 2025 – Aug 2025

25

Sept 2025 – Feb 2026

75

March 2026 – Aug 2026

26

Sept 2026 – Feb 2027

76

March 2027 – Aug 2027

27

Sept 2027 – Feb 2028

77

March 2028 – Aug 2028

28

Sept 2028 – Feb 2029

78

March 2029 – Aug 2029

29

Sept 2029 – Feb 2030

79

March 2030 – Aug 2030

30

 

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