Page last updated at 06:02 GMT, Sunday, 31 January 2010

Theft of DVLA log books fuels cars scam

By Phil Kemp
Donal MacIntyre Show, BBC Radio 5 live

Row of silver Mercedes Benz cars that had been cloned
Some of the hundreds of cloned cars sold on to unsuspecting customers

Vehicles worth £13m have been stolen as a result of the loss of thousands of blank DVLA log books, a BBC investigation has found.

The police say they could be dealing with the impact of the blunder for over a century.

Criminal gangs use the stolen vehicle registration documents to sell cloned cars on the private market.

The DVLA says it is a criminal activity outside of its control and it is working with the police to stop it.

Car cloning is the vehicle equivalent of identity theft. Gangs copy the number plate and other identifying details of a legitimate car onto a similar, but stolen clone.

It will keep me very busy, and my team very busy, for the next 100 or so years
DCI Mark Hooper, ACPO

They also copy the genuine vehicle's log book - or V5 form - by using one of thousands of blank DVLA documents that went missing some time in 2006.

"We're recovering about ten a week and we think there's easily over 120 to 130,000 stolen blank documents out there still," DCI Mark Hooper from the Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) vehicle crime intelligence service, told BBC 5 live's Donal MacIntyre programme.

"It will keep me very busy, and my team very busy, for the next hundred or so years, I suspect."

Buyers duped

Hundreds of people have fallen victim to car cloning and the Acpo unit says it has recovered £13m worth of stolen, cloned vehicles in the past 18 months.

Shona Topping from St Albans was a cautious used-car buyer who had always driven company vehicles

Shona Topping
Shona Topping had to surrender her car and lost the 8,000 she paid for it

When she spotted a Mercedes she liked in a magazine, she asked for its registration details so she could run a vehicle data check on its history.

"I took a mechanic along to have a look at the vehicle, carried out the check and obviously, being nervous, I had to do everything possible," she said.

"It tells you on all the advertising that they check various databases, checking with the police on the computers."

But because Shona's car had been cloned, she was actually running data checks on a completely different, legitimate car.

That meant the result came back clean.

Shona lost £8,000 because she paid for the car in cash.

"I actually hold the DVLA responsible because it's operated as a tool for the criminals," she said.

"They definitely would not have been able to carry out this crime without the help of a perfect, blank V5 form".

Precautionary measures

The DVLA has published on its website a list of serial numbers for the blank log books which it believes have gone missing.

Acpo's DCI Mark Hooper advises potential used-car buyers to check the documents' serial numbers against the missing batch.

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"If it begins with 'BG' or 'BI' then be cautious and check it," he said.

"The second thing is run a provenance check of the car, to check the car serial numbers all match against the registration database."

"The third thing is inspect the document when you look at it and make sure the number hasn't been altered or tampered with in anyway."

DVLA chief executive Noel Shanahan told 5 live: "When we discovered that these documents had been stolen, we actually went to the police because it is a criminal act.

"If it's a criminal act then clearly we can't be held responsible for that.

"Most importantly our website, at that time and now, has current information on it, on how to avoid being duped into buying a stolen vehicle."


Listen to the full report on the Donal MacIntyre programme on BBC 5 live on Sunday, 31 January 2010 at 2000 GMT or download the free podcast

Contact the programme by email: donal@bbc.co.uk

You can also see more on this story on the BBC London edition of Inside Out on Monday, 1 February 2010 at 1930 GMT on BBC 1 or catch up on the BBC iPlayer



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SEE ALSO
Warning to buyers on car cloning
28 Jun 09 |  Lancashire
Warning after spate of car thefts
22 Aug 09 |  Leicestershire

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