Across the UK there are 500 number plates stolen off vehicles every week. This has left many motorists facing penalty notices and questioning for crimes committed by the theives who have stolen their plates. The ordeal of legal and emotional recovery and the fines/penalty notices that have to be contested have been described as “incredibly upsetting”.

Last year, 25,000 number plates were taken from cars alone. In 2018, the figure this year was already 22,000 in October. This information was 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 accusations for innocent drivers.

Technology is increasing number plate theft

Individuals criminals and organised gangs steal number plates to conceal crimes such as stealing petrol from forecourts, known as bilking, or to avoid capture following reckless driving. Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras pick up the number plate only. Therefore, all thefts (even if it’s only one plate), should be reported to police speedily (no pun intended!) to mitigate any effects on the victim of the theft, but also to alert the Police that this licence plate may be about to be used in a crime.

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

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

Since the introduction and the national adoption of ANPR technologies, starting in 2005, stolen number plates values have increased dramatically as a way criminals can avoid prosecution. Nationwide thefts have risen by 76% since 2005 when the BBC reported a rise in number plate theft. Since then, theft has risen by approximately 800 thefts annually. In 2005, 14,176 number plate thefts had been recorded. By 2018, the figure of near 25,000 shows this 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 plates 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 one 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”

Tia Kinnard was the victim of plate cloning. She had her car boxed in, while driving on the M1. She described the ordeal as “a horrible experience.” After the plate cloning incident was detected, it became apparent that a gang had cloned her number plates and used them for numerous burglaries in and around London over a period of time.

Mariam Castle, meanwhile, from Brighton and Hove, was the victim of number plate theft when her plates were stolen off her much-loved 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 found she had to contest the fines in a lengthy process, despite her early involvement of the Police.

Says Mariam: “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 we all do?

In some cases, there isn’t a huge amount that the motorist are able to do.

In older vehicles, where its number plate is stuck on with double-sided tape, it’s advised to add some anti-theft screws which put off thieves initially. They will be less likely to steal plates that are more tightly secured as the risk of them being noticed whilst trying to pinch them is much higher.

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

South Yorkshire Police’s Inspector Craig Clifton from 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.”