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Illegal and cloned number plates

With March's new 23 number plates right around the corner, learn about how to avoid buying illegal number plates and what to do with your old plates.

Nimisha Jain

Words by: Nimisha Jain

Last updated on 30 January 2023 | 0 min read

The new 23-plates will be released on 1 March 2023.
If you’re considering buying the new March number plates, it’s important to keep a few things in mind before making a purchase. In recent years, UK roads have seen an increase in the number of cloned number plates that are wrongly penalising motorists. Criminals are using various tactics to commit crimes and avoid getting fined including duplicating number plates from similar make and model cars. There has also been an increase in the number of illegal number plates with wrong specifications, which can land vehicle owners with a fine of up to £1,000. Keep reading to know more about how to safely buy your next number plate and avoid getting scammed or wrongly fined. Also find out the next steps to take, if you think your number plates have been cloned. Finally, if you’re considering buying new number plates, learn about what to do with your old number plates.  

1. Increase in number of cloned number plates

What is plate cloning?

Number plate cloning, also known as car cloning or vehicle identity theft, is when someone copies a car’s registration number and assigns it to another car. Criminals often choose a vehicle with a ‘clean history’ – without any prior tickets or fines on their licence – to replicate on their car. They may also replicate the number plate of a similar make, model and colour to make it difficult for the police to catch them and instead wrongly fine the actual owner of the car plates. In recent years, cases of cloned number plates have increased because of an increase in the number of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras. ANPR cameras capture a car’s number plate when a motorist breaks the laws of the road to issue fines accordingly. These rule benders have resorted to using cloned number plates to avoid getting caught and fined. Many motorists are resorting to vehicle identity theft by using green number plates on a diesel or petrol car to avoid paying green penalties such as driving an older, polluting vehicle in London’s ULEZ or other Clean Air Zones. Also, many number plates suppliers are selling plates without verifying the car’s original documents which has made it easy for criminals to get their hands on illegal number plates.

How can you tell if a car has been cloned?

To avoid buying a cloned car, you should: 1. Make sure the number plate matches the VIN number and the registration number on the V5 document 2. Get a vehicle check on Auto Trader to check the car’s full history which includes details about any plate changes 3. Avoid purchasing a car in cash as this makes the transaction between you and the seller untraceable. Read our advice on how to make payment safely

What to do if your number plate has been cloned?

If you get wrongly fined for a road offence, it’s possible your number plates have been cloned. In such a case, you should: 1. Collect as much evidence as possible that proves you didn’t commit the crime such as CCTV footage or GPS data 2. Contact the police so that they can catch and prosecute the person impersonating you 3. Contact the DVLA with your crime reference number to inform them you’ve been wrongly fined 4. Return any fines or correspondence that you’ve received for the offence to the issuing authority

How do I avoid my number plate from getting cloned?

You can take a few steps to reduce your chances of number plate cloning: 1. Purchase number plates from a supplier registered with the DVLA – looking for cheap but dodgy suppliers can land you in trouble down the line 2. Personalised number plates have a lesser chance of being cloned due to their distinctiveness 3. Keep photos of your car. Differences such as dents, scrapes or unique modifications on your car can help distinguish it from the car committing the crime. This can serve as evidence to help you avoid paying fines and penalties. 4. A dash camera can help track your whereabouts and serve as evidence as well 5. Never share your V5C logbook or the 11 or 12 digit reference number on it with anyone online  

2. Increase in illegal number plates with wrong specifications

Besides car’s being fined for cloned number plates, there have been reports of illegal number plates, following the wrong specifications.
Again, number plates that don’t follow the proper specification have better chances of dodging the ANPR cameras – criminals can take advantage of this to break road laws and get away with it. You can be fined up to £1,000 if you don’t follow the proper specifications. To avoid buying illegal number plates, you should always look at the colour, font style and spacing between letters and numbers to ensure that it is following the proper design guidelines.

So, what are the number plates specifications in 2022:

Number plates must follow strict guidelines that cover the size and spacing of the letters and numbers (characters):


• The space between characters must be 11mm • The margins at the top, bottom and sides must be 11mm • The space between the age identifier and the random letters must be 33mm

Character Size

• Characters must be 79mm tall and 50mm wide, although number 1 and the letter L aren’t as wide • Character strokes must have a thickness of 14mm


• Only one font has been used since 2001: the Charles Wright font – if it looks different, be suspicious.

Plate colour

• All vehicles made after 1 January 1973 have the same number plate colours: a white background for the front plate and a yellow background on the rear plate.


• You can display a Union Jack, Cross of St George, Cross of St Andre or Red Dragon of Wales flag on the number plate • The flag must be on the left-hand side of the number plate with identifying letters below it • You can use the following identifying letters - UNITED KINGDOM, United Kingdom or UK; GREAT BRITAIN, Great Britain or GB; CYMRU, Cymru, CYM or Cym; ENGLAND, England, ENG, Eng; SCOTLAND, Scotland, SCO or Sco; and WALES or Wales • The flag or letters can’t be on the margin and more than 50mm wide

Number formation

All number plates must possess two letters that identify where the car was first registered and two numbers for the age of the car followed by three random letters. You can learn more about how these number plates are formed and what they mean.  

3. What to do with your old number plates

If you’re considering getting the new 23 reg plates, there are a few things that you can do with your old plates:

1. Recycle your old number plate

An easy and green way of getting rid of your old plates is recycling them. It’s also a good way of avoiding the plates from getting stolen and being used to commit crimes. Most recycling centres are able to easily recycle number plates as they’re made up of acrylic.

2. Sell your private number plate

Many plates suppliers buy private plates so you could consider selling your old plates and making a few quid off them. Remember: The DVLA doesn’t buy plates back, so you’ll have to look for auction houses or online websites that are willing to buy private plates.

3. Surrender your right to use a private number plate

If it’s a personalised number plate that you want to get rid of, you can consider giving it up to DVLA. You can get a refund of up to £80 if you have the latest V778 or V750 document, or if you never assigned the reg number to a vehicle. Learn more about how to give up your number plate (external website)