License Plate Scams

When license plates are ordered from private firms, license plate scams can easily proliferate.

In Europe and many countries beyond, the standard procedure is to order vehicular license plates from a registered shop that manufactures them.  In North America, the state or provincial motor vehicle authority provides them when owners register their vehicles. The British system, however, lends itself to exploitation by drivers who engage in license plate scams.

In the summer of 2018, the BBC reported that license plate scams saddled innocent motorists with huge amounts of fines and fees. It turned out that a few of the registered shops that a BBC undercover reporter checked gladly produced duplicate license plates for as many as three different vehicles at a go. And they did so without checking that that the purported vehicle owner really owned the vehicles.

Due to such laxity, dishonest drivers can clone license plates belonging to a different vehicle that happens to be the same make, model and year as their own. After they attach the cloned plates onto their cars they drive as fast as they like along motorways equipped with speed cameras. The police then send the speeding tickets to the owner of the car whose license plate was cloned. And since these are usually habitual speeders, the cost of these tickets can easily add up.

Similarly, dishonest drivers can rack up similarly huge fines for the victims of their license plate scams by parking illegally. Especially on crowded urban streets. And especially by taking up spaces meant for the handicapped.

Scammers Can Also Make a Good Profit

In 2018, 31-year old Zahid Khan fled his home in Birmingham, England to become a fugitive from justice. Zahid (who was also a convicted refugee smuggler) ran a license plate scam, together with his two brothers and a cousin. It would have netted them an estimated £500,000 if not for their arrests.

Vanity license plates like those common in most U.S. states are unavailable in Britain. Instead, if you want to stand out in a crowd, you buy a license plate with an abbreviated number on the open market. But those are far and few between. And they cost an arm and a leg. Khan and his accomplices stole five such high-value plates. And then they tricked Britain’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) into transferring ownership.

Khan’s brothers received prison sentences. Their cousin was already serving time for causing an unintentional death by reckless driving and money laundering. He received an extra six months behind bars.

License Plate Scams Beyond the UK

Meanwhile, dishonest Australian drivers employ a variation on the same theme Down Under. No, they don’t pay a shop to forge someone else’s license plates. Instead, they simply print them out on paper using 3D and digital technology. The paper is typically thick and features a sticky back. So the scammers simply stick them on top of their existing license plates. The National Roads Motorists’ Association (NRMA) of Australia reports that apart from speeding and parking tickets, the victims of license plate scams in that country also receive hefty bills for expressway tolls.

Pretty soon, similar license plate scams emigrated across the South Pacific to Fiji. There, local police investigated at least two such cases. In the first, a license plate that belonged to a taxi driver who returned it to the Land Transport Authority somehow surfaced on another vehicle driven by a robber making his getaway. In the second incident, a car totaled in a traffic accident and towed to the police compound. Afterwards, however, at least two people reported to the police that they saw the same license plate number on two other vehicles.

Finally, let’s now move on to Africa. Kenyan police report that they found that employees of that country’s National Transport and Safety Authority cloned license plates in order to illegally register vehicles for sale. Not only that. The corruption went deeper. These same individuals collaborated with staff at the Kenya Revenue Authority in order to enable criminals and rogue insurance brokers to falsify documents.  It was that collaboration that enabled the license plate scam to succeed. At least until it was uncovered.