Number plate cloning, where a fraudster purchases licence plates of another identical make and model of vehicle, has been the subject of a number of media investigations recently. Although there are no official statistics available, comments from police forces suggest it is a widespread problem, the tip of a bigger iceberg that leaves uninsured cars free to ply the streets (as they are identical to another car of the same make and colour, and do not show up on police ANPR cameras).
The BBC expressed it with a headline earlier this year, ‘Number Plate Cloning: Fake Plates Ready in 10 Minutes’. Their undercover reporter was able to purchase fake number plates from several retailers without any logbook checks.
To test the theory we recently bought a pair of copy number plates at a well-known motor parts retailer in Berkshire. There were no checks made against personal ID and the vehicle registration certificate, although official suppliers and dealers are supposed to check the original documents. Furthermore there is no DVLA database that gives motor parts retailers access to the information they need to make checks online.
Details of registered suppliers and the correct documents to use are available on the government website. To guard against cloning when buying a car, the consumer needs to pay for a car history check or HPI search, and check the vehicle against the VIN plate or chassis number.
It is just another example of the professional type of organisation, and the scale that the fraudsters now operate at.
The risks for the genuine consumer include the possibility of an uninsured collision with one of these vehicles, parking and speeding fines sent in the name of the genuine registered keeper of the vehicle, as well as the cloned vehicle being stolen or involved in other crimes.
Cheap insurance policies sold through fraudulent applications made by ghost brokers, leaving the genuine policyholder high and dry, are another example where we help insurers combat fraud through our Intelligent Quotes tool, Risk Insights and other ID solutions.
Taking a quick poll of individuals in our office who have lived in other countries, the anecdotal evidence suggests that stronger checks do happen in other countries, where permanent registration plates are often only available direct from government or municipal authorities.
Consider also there is no mandatory police report system of motor accidents in the UK, unlike many countries, and we can see that as a society we do place more of this burden of investigation, claims forensics, and ultimately prevention, onto the insurance companies.
Fraudulent whiplash claims, claims management companies (CMCs) and cold-calling for personal injury claims, crash-for-cash gangs: scams are happening at the rate of one every minute according to ABI research, costing UK motor insurance an estimated £1.3 billion in premiums every year.
The ABI predicts that the average motorist could be paying £200 a year unnecessarily by 2020, the cost of the ‘compensation culture’ and the CMCs who nuisance call and text honest motorists encouraging them to make fraudulent and exaggerated claims through claimant law firms.
Government has only recently been waking up to the notion of fraudulent claims and the need for regulation, but fortunately for all of us, more data is coming to support the honest policyholder. Awareness is growing. Anti-theft screws and other measures are available to prevent physical theft of plates.
But it’s another reminder of the important role of data analytics, and technical evidence such as in-vehicle video, with inter-connected databases, data matching, and telematics evidence at the point of claim, in the fight against fraud.
It is quite a dysfunctional state of affairs and it’s a feature of the UK market that we place a lot of this burden – and cost – onto the insurance industry and the ordinary customer.