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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Nicol

What’s the big problem with my car registration plate being visible online?

We all need to share less personal information online. It’s something we at B5 regularly bang on about to sports people. One of those little snippets of personal info is a car reg. I always knew it was something we shouldn’t put on social media but I’m not sure I realised until recently just how sensible the advice is ….

I knew it could create possible issues with safety and stalking but the most important reason resulted in one of the scariest experiences of my life.

We see it all the time, car leasing companies promoting car deals on social media which have the real registration plate on the images, influencers, celebrities and athletes posing with their cars (plus reg plates) or promotional events with high-powered vehicles and a fancy reg.

The real danger in all of this – is cloning. An Instagram image showing the make, model, colour and reg of a car acts like an instruction manual for organised criminals looking to clone and hide stolen vehicles and it turns out that the Instagram page of the leasing company I got my car from was a well-used manual …

Parking tickets and a speeding ticket later … I thought to myself “I don’t think I was driving on that road on that specific day I’ve been caught speeding, they must have got the date wrong!”. Of course, we all doubt ourselves, I assumed it must have been me and they just mixed the dates up. After all, it was my car, the same colour and number plate driving on a road I would use.

I did some detective work, I checked my ‘location services’ on my iPhone to double check my movements on the date that I was being accused of speeding and, much to my own surprise, I wasn’t on the road that day.

I decided to appeal it, still thinking it was just a technical error and the dates were wrong. I was then asked to send pictures of my vehicle, which I thought was a waste of time because it looks exactly the same as the ANPR camera picture.

Just a few days later I received a response telling me something that I hadn’t even considered … my car had been cloned. For those of you who aren’t familiar that means that someone has used identical reg plates for a car (presumably stolen) that is the same make, model and colour. Cloned vehicles, so I now understand, are usually used within organised crime groups to commit serious crimes; robberies, drug deals and even worse … murders.

I was told that I was likely to be stopped by the police in future (given that I was driving an identical vehicle to one being driven by serious criminals) and I was provided with a letter to carry with me in my car when I was driving.

“Okay, cool! I’ll just carry the letter and I’ll show it to the nice police officer who pulls me over” I thought.

But then … it was a Tuesday evening and I had just finished dinner with my friend in Cobham, music turned up, singing along and a leisurely drive home on a quiet M25 (yep, it can happen!).

I noticed a police car behind me as I pulled out of the car park, and it took the same turn onto the M25 as me … I did think “I wonder if they’ll pull me over”. I continued driving as normal and the police seemed to have disappeared. Around thirty minutes later I came off at my junction onto a single lane road.

Then … carnage: blue lights, sirens, skid noises, brake lights coming from behind, in front and an unmarked vehicle cutting across me causing me to emergency stop and only miss crashing into it by centimetres. Before I even had time to blink, I had an army of male officers banging on every window screaming at me to unlock my car and put my hands in the air.

Honestly, I was trembling and couldn’t process what was happening quick enough, I even forgot where my unlock button was, I was in that much of a state! I got out the car, hands in the air and was put into another unmarked police car. All I could see was aggressive men, several police cars and unmarked vehicles. I couldn’t stop shaking, I felt sick and at this point I had no clue what I had done … I’ve never been in any trouble with the police.

It didn’t take too long for officers to see and understand the state I was in and quickly realised that I was not a member of an organised crime gang. When things calmed they told me that I was driving a cloned vehicle and I told them I have the letter to prove that I am the correct and legal driver. They became gentle at this point, realised the mistake that had been made, and they set to work trying to calm me down.

I asked them, “Was that whole operation absolutely necessary???”.

I was told that it is necessary to stop a vehicle in this way to stop criminals escaping in the safest way. It wasn’t much comfort to little old me. I couldn’t shake the trauma off. Given that they’d followed me from the car park and tracked me for half an hour I wondered if it had occurred to them that a 5 feet 3 little girlie like me might not be a member of a serious crime gang.

Around half an hour passed and the officers did their best to try to calm me down and get me in a fit enough state to drive my car back home again. I still feel traumatised writing this and no longer enjoy my leisurely late-night drives. Any police car I now see; I get myself prepared for round two. It’s not fun at all appearing as a real life extra from the Line of Duty!

So, back to the point of telling you my mad story … don’t post your registration plate online or be very cautious when purchasing or leasing your car from any companies that have already posted your vehicle and the reg plate online.

Speeding fines, parking tickets and two awful ordeals later (yes, it happened again a few weeks later despite police reassurances that it wouldn’t) … I can now say, from traumatic experience, why we should protect our personal information more than ever.

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