David Jamieson, police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands region, said that cloned plates -- with the registration number copied from a similar car owned by an innocent motorist -- are being used to rack up speeding fines and congestion charges.
Criminal gangs also use cloned cars for ram raids, petrol station drive-offs and other illegal activities. This has led to registered owners facing fines or arrest when it wrongly appears their vehicles are involved in crime.
"People stealing number plates is a very considerable problem," Jamieson said. "We're seeing thousands of plates being stolen just in the West Midlands -- Merseyside, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire are seeing huge rises as well."
Jamieson said it is "ludicrous" that vehicles are still being made where the number plates can be pulled off or unscrewed with ease. A BBC investigation last year showed how easy it is for criminals to obtain fake number plates, with DVLA registered companies found to be selling licence plates to drivers without carrying out proper checks.
Customers should be asked to prove their name and address and their right to use the registration number when they ask for a new licence plate to be made, BBC News explained. If you suspect that your vehicle's number plate has been cloned, contact the organisation issuing fines and explain your situation. You should also inform the police and the DVLA.
To check the number plate is legitimate when buying a used car, look out for any signs that the paperwork has missing information or altered details. Check the serial number and DVLA watermark on the vehicle's V5 logbook, and make sure the numbers in the logbook correspond to those etched onto the vehicle itself. For added peace of mind, you can also carry out an online car history check.