Cases of car cloning in the capital have risen by half in a year, according to official data from Transport for London.
Figures obtained by motoring website HonestJohn.co.uk analysed the number of Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) automatically issued in London which were later cancelled on the grounds of the car being a clone.
It found that in 2016, 1099 PCNs issued for non-payment of London’s Congestion Charge were cancelled on the grounds of the car being a clone. In 2017, the figure had increased to 1,652. Data for the first six months of 2018 show that the figure is set to rise again, with figures from January-June up by a third.
The true figure is expected to be much higher, with a complex appeal process discouraging some – as well as the fact that the Congestion Charge only operates between 7am and 6pm, Monday to Friday.
If issued a PCN, the motorist is required to provide proof that their car was not in contravention of the rules – a process which usually means proving your car was elsewhere when the ticket was issued.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” commented Honest John’s managing editor, Daniel Powell. “On the grounds that it is down to the car owner to prove they are innocent, it would be safe to assume the true figure for car cloning in London is significantly higher as many drivers will be unable to supply the evidence TfL needs to cancel the PCN.”
“For those involved it can be a very frightening and stressful experience, because they will be threatened with crippling fines and court action if they cannot provide comprehensive proof that they were not on the capital’s roads. It also raises an important question – how many drivers simply pay the fine to avoid the stress?”
PCNs for contravention of the Congestion Charge zone are £65, rising to £130 if not paid within 14 days. It’s enforced by a network of automatic number plate recognition cameras, and entrance costs £11.50 for a petrol or Euro 4 diesel car.
TfL assured motorists that before issuing the PCN, it manually verifies that the vehicle for which the fine is issued matches the number plate – at least in terms of model and colour. However, that doesn’t affect incidences where criminals put the cloned plate onto a car of an identical make and model.
Powell continued: “There are a number of steps car owners can take to protect themselves, with the most obvious one being photos of their car to show the subtle differences between the clone and legitimate vehicle. Legal number plates usually have the manufacturer’s logo on them, while the clones are usually blank. CCTV footage will also prove a car’s location at a certain time, along with footage from a dash camera with GPS tracking.”