Theft of car license plates seems at first sight a schoolboy joke. After all, why steal a number plate? Surely it is only the children who carry out an apparently useless act of vandalism and theft? Well, no, it’s actually much more serious than you think, and it could leave you with a multitude of problems if that stolen license plate is placed in another vehicle that is used in criminal activity. So, if your license plates have been stolen, what should you do?
Tell the police
The first thing to do if you suspect your license plate has been stolen is to notify the police. It is an act of theft, and your report guarantees that the authorities are notified in case your registration is recorded at the scene of a crime. That could be something as seemingly innocuous as getting away from a gas station without paying or something much more serious. You must also immediately notify the Driver’s Vehicle Registration and Authorization Authority (DVLA) of the theft so that any report of stolen vehicles or vehicles involved in criminal activity can be compared to your report and your name will be discarded in any investigation.
However, do not expect it to be an easy trip. If your license plates are placed in another car, the authorities should check with you their movements, if the car is in fact yours or even if you have an alibi for a particular time or place. Unfortunately, the burden of proof will be on you, but there are ways to protect yourself. Photographic evidence, particularly from speed cameras or the registration of the tax disc of the suspect vehicle in the case of NCP (Penalty Notices) will quickly confirm that the registered vehicle is not yours, and a photo of your tax disc is conclusive proof of his innocence. You can also make sure that your car is easily identifiable by having a distinctive sticker in a window, for example.
Not only physical theft …
But the problem is not limited to stealing the license plates of cars. License plates can also be ‘cloned’, which is becoming a much more common problem. While the authorities try to prevent cloning incidents by making sure that to buy a new license plate, you must present the registration documents of the vehicle to the supplier, replicating a fake license plate is still a relatively simple process for certain offenders. If you receive speeding tickets, penalty notices or, if you live in London, Congestion notices, you must immediately notify the authorities in writing that you suspect that your license plates have been cloned.
If you have had the bad luck of having your license plates stolen, keep a detailed diary of your trips for a while. That way, you can determine your innocence more easily and could also help the police to make a pattern of the suspicious vehicle movements from your information.
All license plates are at risk, including custom license plates. Another good way to avoid the theft of your car’s license plates in the first place is to attach them to the vehicle with a special theft prevention system or with anti-tamper screws. They are available online and at specialized car dealerships, so if you are worried that your license plates are at risk, stop thieves before they hit and make sure your license plates are secure. Of course, this will not protect you against the possibility of cloning, but it will prevent opportunistic thieves from physically removing your license plates.
Finally, you can request that DVLA delete the registration completely and buy a new record for your car. Rejecting the stolen number may mean that a police vehicle equipped with ANPR (Automatic License Plate Recognition) traps a cloner or thief who uses the plates. But this is a costly option and not one that those who have paid for personalized license plates will be willing to do so. The most important thing to remember is to make sure that the theft or suspicion of cloning has been reported to the authorities as soon as you become aware of the situation. The faster you act, the faster you can prevent a small inconvenience from becoming a major problem.