My son was fined for a ULEZ violation, but he was not driving and the license plates have been cloned

  • Thomas Fryer paid £708 to a debt collection agency when he was threatened with bailiffs
  • Criminals copy legitimate license plates and use them to drive similar car models

Our son has received a letter from a debt collection agency stating that he has an outstanding fine from Transport for London for non-payment of Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charges.

He has not been to London, and although the car in the picture looks like his and has the same number plate, it is a different vehicle. The photo is of a silver sedan, while he has a station wagon, and the car has a sunroof, while his does not.

Thomas sold the car in July 2023 and the alleged violation occurred in June 2023. He advertised the car on AutoTrader, including the registration number, and I believe someone found his details and copied his registration number.

He has moved and has only just been made aware of the problem. There has been a court case and bailiffs are expected to visit. He and his wife were both very concerned about the letter they received, so they paid £708 to the debt collection company.

What can he do to get his money back? KF and TF, Preston

Thomas Fryer's vehicle is a station wagon with roof rails

Key difference: Thomas Fryer’s car is a station wagon, while the car captured by ULEX cameras was a sedan

Harvey Dorset from This is Money replies: Since the introduction of ULEZ taxes in 2019, the cloning of license plates has been on the rise.

Unsurprisingly, the flood of accusations has also meant that a minority of people will do anything to avoid paying, even if it means throwing someone else under the bus.

According to the DVLA, more than 12,000 drivers received fines, fines or letters between January 2021 and September 2022 because other vehicles displayed their plates.

Criminals copy legitimate license plates and use them to drive similar car models – often stolen or used for criminal activity – to avoid congestion charges, parking fees and speeding tickets.

When the cars are caught on camera, fine notices are posted to the address of the innocent owner of the original car, often leaving them hundreds of pounds out of pocket or a visit from the bailiffs.

In your son’s case, he paid the fine rather than risk dealing with bailiffs sent by a debt collection agency, even though he knew he had never driven the 200 miles to London , from where he lives in Preston.

Thomas Fryer's car is a similar Honda model as shown in the ULEZ image
Criminals who have cloned the car's license plate usually target similar vehicle models to their car

Similarity: Criminals look for similar car models to get away with parking fines, speeding tickets and ULEZ fines – but there are some minor differences between the car Thomas owns and the one caught on camera

Thomas told This is Money that not only has he never driven the car in question to London, but he hasn’t even visited the capital in seven years.

I contacted Transport for London, which manages ULEZ costs, to show the evidence you sent me and ask if they could refund your money.

I’m pleased to hear that you have now received a full refund of £708 after it was concluded that you were not the driver who broke the ULEZ rules.

However, record cloning remains a growing problem and more and more people fall victim to this crime every year.

A TfL spokesperson said: “We are sorry that Mr. Fryer has been a victim of vehicle cloning.

‘Unfortunately, as we did not receive a statement of evidence of cloning from Mr Fryer within the required timeframe, the matter passed to an enforcement agent.

‘When Mr Fryer contacted us he was advised to file a statutory late report with the Traffic Enforcement Centre.’

‘After reviewing the case, we are confident it is a cloned vehicle and have canceled both PCNs and issued a full refund to Mr Fryer.’

How to avoid getting caught by plate cloners

Do not post messages online

Do not post images of your car online that could be used to identify it.

Bryn Brooker, head of road safety at dashboard camera company Nextbase, said: ‘Putting a photo of your car online with your number plate in view makes it much easier for criminals to copy your number plate, as they usually try to match the number plates. to exact models and brands.

‘Make sure you obscure or leave out your license plate when posting photos of your car online.’

Small steps: Bryn Brooker says adding recognizable features to your car can help you avoid paying someone else's fine

Small steps: Bryn Brooker says adding recognizable features to your car can help you avoid paying someone else’s fine

Customize your car

You don’t need headlight lashes or neon lights adorning your car, but adding identifying information can make your license plate harder to clone.

Brooker suggests adding a country flag or other legal badge, which will make it a little more difficult to clone your license plate exactly.

“Make sure you immediately take a photo of your car with the extra detail plate so you can prove you didn’t put it on to avoid the fine,” he says.

‘A small but clearly visible sticker on your lower windscreen can also help you distinguish your car from anyone imitating it and caught by a speed or traffic jam camera.’

Invest in a dashcam

In addition to the other benefits a dashcam can provide, such as protecting against insurance claims and deterring theft, they can also be used to prove that your car has been cloned.

“Dashcams time-stamp their footage, giving you another easy way to prove that you weren’t near a speed camera or that you weren’t near an accident with a spoofed license plate,” says Brooker.

‘It can also be very useful if someone actually tries to steal your license plates or comes near your car. Filming is done as soon as the car is hit or someone comes too close.’