Car cloning – how to avoid being stung!

legal updates

For buyers, there are a number of clues. For example, the V5C might be missing or is not registered to the seller's address.

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Trader or consumer, anyone looking to buy a used car could be the victim of this scam. Diligence is the key to spotting a cloned car before it’s too late!

How is cloning done

It usually starts with the theft of a car. Thieves look for a car almost identical to one they have stolen and copy the plates of the car or sometimes manage to steal the original plates. The stolen car now looks legal on casual inspection.

How to spot a cloned car

If the owner receives any fines or penalty notices from somewhere they have not been then chances are their car has been cloned.

For buyers, there are a number of clues. For example, the V5C might be missing or is not registered to the seller’s address.

This document could also be forged. Verify such document by attempting to use the online car tax website, which will request the document reference number;

An online MOT history search will only reveal the details for the genuine vehicle attached to that number plate, unless the original has been off the road and VIN checks have not been performed during the MOT test. Large gaps in the timeline or discrepancies in mileage are signs of potential trouble.

Carry out a history check

A history check will provide details such as the mileage, which can be compared to the car you are looking to buy. Also, engine details might not match the car being sold since the criminals may not be able to get an exact match. Any discrepancies here might mean all is not as it seems. It will also confirm the last change of owner. A dodgy seller is unlikely to know this, so if they cannot or refuse to give this information or they are just wrong, then walk away.

Check the manufacturer records

If you have the VIN, get a factory build sheet from the dealer or manufacturer listing items like the engine specification, colour and trim, together with details such as equipment and factory accessories, which a cloner may have overlooked.

Visual checks of the car must include the VIN plate in the windscreen and under the bonnet. Check online for information on other locations, such as under the carpet or in the boot.

A stolen car wearing the plates and VIN of a cloned (or written off) car is known as a ‘ringer’; often these can appear to be completely legal as it’s the body of the car, not the identity that has been stolen.

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Check the infotainment system for details like VIN and in particular, the pages associated with the software version and status.

What to do if your car has been cloned

First, return any fines or tickets sent to you, along with any evidence you have to prove it was not you. Next, notify the DVLA what has happened so they have the plate on record for future use. Finally, inform the police so that they can attempt to trace and prosecute the scamster.

What can you do if you bought a cloned car?

The brutal truth is, not much! In some cases it may be possible to take legal action against the seller for misrepresentation, if you can find them and they are worth suing and some protection is afforded when paying by credit card.

Prevention is and always will be the best remedy and this requires due diligence.

Howard TilneyHead of Strategy / Legal AdvisorRead More by this author

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