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London congestion charge leads to flood of false number plates

CRIMINALS ARE "cloning" the number plates of cars and putting them on their own vehicles in order to avoid the London congestion charge, its administrators said yesterday.

Dozens of people who have never driven in London are understood to have received fines of up to pounds 80 from Transport for London (TfL).

In one case, Peggy Metcalf, 80, from Norwich, received a notice saying her Nissan Sunny was photographed inside the zone at 8.19am on 17 February, the first day of the charge.

Mrs Metcalf said she would have had to get up at 5am to reach London by that time. She has written to TfL appealing the fine. She said: "My worry is that someone else has put copies of my number plates on their car. There's nothing to stop them [doing it] again. What other trouble might I get into?"

"Cloning" happens when criminals spot a car that matches the make, model and colour of their own and note the number plate, which they copy and fit on their own car.

The Independent discovered yesterday that despite new legislation it is easy to copy the number plate of an existing car. It took two phone calls to find a garage that was prepared to make a set of number plates for pounds 10 without proof that they were for the car's legal owner.

From Saturday 1 March all garages will be required by law to demand to see the vehicle's "log book" before making new plates, but until then the potential for cloning is unlimited.

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TfL said it was building up a database of "rogue numbers" which will trigger an alert within their computerised system as soon as a car bearing that number plate enters the zone.

A TfL spokesman said yesterday: "If people receive a penalty charge notice but can prove that they weren't driving in the charging zone, they should contact us. We will then do another make, model, colour, and number plate check. If there is still a match, then they may wish to contact the police - it may be that their number plate was cloned."

Copyright 2003 Independent Newspapers UK Limited
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