Cases of car cloning in London have risen by 50 per cent in just one year according to official figures, leading to concerns that similar levels of cloning may be rife across the rest of the UK.

Cloning occurs when criminals copy legitimate registration plates and use the fake identity to drive a similar car that may be stolen, unroadworthy and/or involved in unlawful activity. And while it’s more likely to involve a modern car, a classic car can easily be found online and its details copied – as also demonstrated by the proliferation of fake classified ads in recent times.

A freedom of information request by motoring website led to Transport for London (TfL) Congestion Charge zone data being analysed, and found that the number of Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) being cancelled due to car cloning has soared. In 2016 a total of 1099 PCNs were cancelled, but in 2017 this increased by 50 per cent to 1652. Data for the first six months of 2018 show that cloning continues to rise, with figures up by a third compared to the same period in 2017.

In response to the findings, TfL said: “Prior to issuing the PCN we manually verify that the image of the vehicle observed in the zone matches the vehicle information provided by the DVLA. Only when there is a match is a penalty issued. At the point of issuing the penalty we would not know if a vehicle had been cloned.

“On receipt of the penalty a motorist can follow the representations and appeals procedure and challenge a PCN. If we receive a representation stating a vehicle has been cloned we request evidence to confirm this.”

In these cases, the onus is on legitimate registered keeper to prove that the car was not at the place and time where the alleged offence occurred. Given the lengthy appeals process and the fact that the Congestion Charge zone only operates Monday to Friday, the true figure for the number of cloned cars on the road in London is thought to be much higher than the figures indicate.

Clive Robertson, of London Law Firm Healys, said: “If you cannot establish that it was a physical impossibility for you to have been where you are reported to have been, at the time of the offence, then you will be liable. Failure to pay can result in Court action which in turn can affect your credit score or, more seriously, bring points on your licence or disqualification.”

Motorists are being advised to protect themselves with photographs of their vehicles that may help differentiate from a cloned vehicle. CCTV footage will also prove a car’s location at a certain time, as well mobile phone pictures with a date, diary entries, a tracker with data logging capabilities and/or footage from a dash camera with GPS tracking.