Guilty until proven innocent?

The Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) is this week shining a light on the most heinous practice of number-plate cloning, which it claims has left "numerous" car dealers fighting traffic infringement penalties.

In one case, the VACC says, a Licensed Motor Car Trader was fined over $16,000 "for a single incidence of number plate cloning".

The process of cloning a number plate is said to be as simple as spying a vehicle of identical model and colour, noting its number plate, and reproducing it - as easily as printing a mocked-up copy or hand-drawing it.

VACC Executive Director, Geoff Gwilym, says that while any motorist can be a victim, it is car dealers - a group the VACC represents - most likely to be targeted.

“Criminals go online, or drive past a dealership, and note the registration of a particular vehicle. They then get these plates copied and go driving all over town in a similar vehicle, accumulating speeding and red light fines, CityLink tolls and parking infringements, all while the original vehicle has been on the dealer’s lot," Gwilym says.

He said that unsold, registered vehicles sitting on dealer lots are a popular target because offenders can use the car's number plate details for sometime without the crime being detected.

“Victims of this crime often don’t know anything about it until a fine arrives in the mail. By this time, the penalty may be considerable. Several dealer members have reported fines in the thousands of dollars.”

So far, Gwilym says, victims have been told to prove their innocence in court, and authorities have revealed no plans to combat the issue.

“Anyone receiving a suspect fine should challenge the decision. Those affected can request of Civic Compliance that they issue photographs of the alleged offence. This can be used in creating a defence. Importantly, bring the indiscretion to the attention of Civic Compliance as soon as possible and build a case."

The VACC has proposed a barcoded sticker, placed on the inside surface of a vehicle's windscreens, would be harder to replicate and thus a possible solution to ruling out victim as perpetrator.

“VACC calls on the appropriate authorities to investigate all possible solutions to this wide-spread crime that potentially could affect every motorist in Australia,” said Mr Gwilym.

CarAdvice has contacted VicRoads, Victoria Police and Civic Compliance for comment, and will update this story if a response is forthcoming.


UPDATE: VicRoads comment below.

"VicRoads has established a cross-agency working group with representatives from Victoria Police, Department of Justice and Regulation, Sheriff's Office and National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council looking into the misuse and theft of number plates.

If people suspect their number plates have been cloned, they should immediately contact Victoria Police."