Vehicle-related crime in South Africa is on the rise though the list of offences goes beyond hijackings and car theft.
While it may not be as common as those crimes, vehicle number-plate cloning affects many SA motorists, reports Law for All.
How prolific is plate cloning in SA?
Law For All said: "Much like identity theft, this means that a criminal can pass of your information and details as their own, and it has widespread consequences.
"While exact statistics aren’t available for the nationwide prevalence of number plate cloning, it’s been reported that around 1 in 5 vehicles in Gauteng have had their plates copied. These duplicates are used by other motorists to avoid paying traffic fines and e-toll fees, and it’s frightfully easy to obtain a fake number plate."
Law For All said: "Various investigations from local news outlets have uncovered that fraudulent number plates can be obtained relatively easily.
"Apparently, it is as easy as walking into an SABS-approved shop and ordering one – without having to produce an ID or license disc. Of course, there are a number of 'backstreet' outlets that sell fake plate as well."
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How does a cloned number plate affect motorists?
According to Law For All managing director, advocate Jackie Nagtegaal, any traffic fine (whether parking, speeding or e-toll penalty) that is incurred by the criminal using a fake number plate will fall to the legitimate owner of the vehicle to pay.
"The onus is on the legal owner of the vehicle to prove his or her innocence. This also means that motorists could face potential criminal charges if the fines go unpaid for a long period of time. In short, motorists can ‘commit crimes’ without their knowledge," warns Nagtegaal.
Additionally, unresolved fines could result in motorists not being able to renew their vehicle’s licence disc.
Contact the authorities
It’s best to report the matter. Head to the SAPS and open a case, it’s also advisable to inform the local metro police and traffic officials.
When it comes to dealing with traffic fines accumulated by a fraudulent plate, it’s recommended to contact the Road Traffic Infringement Agency (RTIA). One of the agency’s objectives is to "ensure that individuals understand their rights and options" when it comes to issues relating to road violations. Any fine that is issued by AARTO must be disputed via its online query system.
In both instances, it’s likely to be a long and frustrating process, so be prepared.
How to ensure you don’t purchase a car with cloned number plates
Motorists can do their bit to help ensure this issue isn’t perpetuated by do the following:
• Only purchase a vehicle from a reputable dealer
• Do not purchase a car that does not have an owner’s manual or service book.
• Double check that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) corresponds with the chassis number (look for signs of potential tampering as well)
• Ensure that the car has two sets of keys and that both sets work on the ignition and doors.
• Ask for a private seller’s proof of registration and residence before buying a car with cash.
Law For All said: "Vehicle-related crime won’t be slowing down any time soon, so it’s always best to be extra vigilant and report any suspicious activity as soon as possible."