Det Ch Insp Hooper wants tighter checks in the second hand car market
The way second hand cars are bought and sold needs a major shake-up, says a police officer who helps lead the fight against vehicle crime.
Det Ch Insp Mark Hooper says too many people are becoming victims of a practice known as car cloning.
This is a scam in which stolen vehicles are given false number plates and identity papers before being sold.
He wants a system where a third party verifies the identities of sellers and buyers and that vehicles are genuine.
Det Ch Insp Hooper, who heads the Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service for the Association of Chief Police Officers, believes it would help tackle the scam.
He says it is important to iron out weaknesses in the current system.
"If we have a process which is flawed, which is vulnerable... it is our duty to try to fix that to make sure it is not being exploited by criminals," he said.
"They are very good at what they do. These guys make their living doing this and they will always be testing, probing, trying to find weaknesses that we need to protect against."
No one is sure how widespread the problem is, but 75,000 cars a year disappear without trace in the UK.
Det Ch Insp Hooper says the unit knows that some of those will end up back in circulation with a false identity.
He says that the scam is well-organised, with a person or group at the core who will task a thief to steal a car in return for about £500.
They will then recover the car and give it to a "ringer" who will change the identity to another "clean" vehicle.
How to avoid buying a stolen car
Next, the car goes to a forger who will provide the necessary paperwork for sale, before someone else sells the car through trade publications or the internet auction sites.
It can be a lucrative business. At the beginning of this year, five people were jailed for up to four-and-a-half years for their part in a car cloning gang which made £1.2m in four years.
The gang stole 37 cars, forged their details and resold them. They then stole the same cars again and sold them again up to three times each.
Phil Squires is all too familiar with how the scammers operate.
He bought a Toyota Land Cruiser for what he thought was a bargain price of £14,000 after seeing it advertised online.
He checked most of its details and all seemed to be in order.
"Everything tied up, all the serial numbers were OK. I used to be in the motor trade and buying cars is nothing new to me," he said.
Phil Squires lost £14,000 after buying this cloned Toyota Land Cruiser
Mr Squires handed over his money, but the next day he noticed a discrepancy in the tax disc and called police, fearing the worst.
Three days later the police confiscated his car, with no hope of him recovering his money.
"I'm left with no car and no money," said Mr Squires.
He said he was the third victim of the scam - along with the person who originally owned the car and the insurance company which paid out to them. However, he is unable to turn to insurance for a refund.
Det Ch Insp Hooper is well aware of how easy it is for people to fall victim to the cloning criminals.
He would like to see the second hand car market use a similar system to that in France, where both parties must go to a town hall registration authority to show their documentation is correct.
"It could be anything from a superficial identity check... some documents that are produced which would deter all but the most confident of criminals.
"Or it could range to a full mechanical check of the vehicle."
The officer accepts the system would incur costs and could inconvenience people by making buying cars at weekends more difficult but says those problems would have to be worked around.
His unit is talking to the DVLA, which issues vehicle documents, about how any system could work and when it could be introduced.
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