The Government has been warned that cuts to policing numbers could see fewer stolen cars than ever returned to their owners.
At present nearly half of all cars stolen in the UK are never returned but vehicle security specialists have warned that reductions in the number of teams dedicated to tackling car crime could see this number rise.
Official figures show that car crime in England and Wales has risen by 30 per cent in the last three years while traffic police officer numbers fell by 30 per cent between 2007 and 2017. Security firm Tracker has warned that while the techniques for taking cars might have changed, the methods of disposing of them haven’t.
Many stolen vehicles quickly have their identities changes to mask their origins in a process known as cloning. Thieves alter a car’s VIN number and registration to give it the identity of a similar make and model already on the road. They then sell the cloned car to an unsuspecting buyer, often with the help of stolen or fake paperwork.
A spokesman for Tracker warned: “The ease with which today’s criminals can steal a car at one end of the country and then clone it with the identification number of a vehicle several hundred miles away, must not be underestimated.
“With traffic officer numbers [in England and Wales] having reduced by a third since austerity cuts began to bite, the chances of a cloned car being stopped and identified are significantly lower than they were a decade ago.
Cloning not only leaves the buyer at risk of having their car seized by police but also leaves the owner of the legitimate vehicle exposed to fines and other penalties if the cloned car is involved in illegal activities.
Andy Barrs, head of police liaison at Tracker commented: “Austerity cuts to policing by central government, mean the vast majority of police forces no longer have the specialist trained staff capable of identifying and investigating vehicle cloning.”
However, police chiefs have said that they are working hard to ensure the rise in car crimes doesn’t continue.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for vehicle crime, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty said: “Despite recent increases, total vehicle theft remains at a historically low level with 85,000 fewer incidents reported to police this year than ten years ago.
“In recent years vehicle theft has started to increase across the country following many years of reductions.
“We are seeing more sophisticated operations by organised crime gangs exporting cars for profit as well as increasing scooter and motorcycle and keyless car theft. Police forces are working with the Home Office, the National Crime Agency, the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, Europol and car manufacturers to design-out crime and disrupt these networks.
“Local forces continue to advise people on simple and effective protective measures such as ensuring cars are parked and locked safely with appropriate alarms and no valuables on display.”