Sadly, it sometimes seems that one has to be vigilant to the point of paranoia these days.
No matter how frequent the warnings, and no matter how robust online security becomes, we continue to hear of scams, fraud and identity theft occurring both online and off. People do become more educated, but then so do the criminals. While we may no longer be taken in by emails from foreign princes, or the heirs of billionaire bankers, offering to pay for our help in moving their fortunes to safety, there are always new schemes and scams with which we are less familiar.
Luckily, the personal number plates industry suffers very little from this blight, and our marketplace is mostly populated by trustworthy buyers and sellers. But few niches escape the crooks' notice altogether, and occasionally they do try to poke their noses into our business.
Here are our tips to help you keep your acrylic number plates and your personal registrations safe and secure.
Secure your physical plates
DVLA and the police have tried to make it harder for criminals to disguise their vehicles with false number plates. For this reason, acrylic number plates can only be legally manufactured and supplied by approved, registered companies, and purchasers have to show proof of identity and entitlement to the registration concerned before they are allowed to buy. Of course, crooks still need to disguise cars one way or another, whether it's to ensure escape from a robbery, to drive away from a petrol station without paying or to avoid congestion charges. If buying plates is made too awkward or too risky, the obvious alternative is to steal them from other vehicles.
Number plates are usually held in place by screws or adhesive pads. Generally, adhesive foam tape or pads, if good quality, make it more difficult to remove a number plate than standard screws. Obviously using both adhesive and screws makes things even more secure, as thieves don't like to take a long time or make a lot of noise in the course of their "work" and a plate secured by both means will take some effort to remove.
Purpose-made security screws are even more effective - especially if used with adhesive pads. These screws are readily available from online stores and many local constabularies hold number plate security events at which they will fit number plate security screws free of charge.
Stay safe when buying and selling registrations
While it would be foolish of us to explain in detail how criminals attempt to defraud, we can point to areas that must be navigated with care.
Amongst the potential hazards are:
Individuals or small groups advertising registrations for sale on the most famous, online auction site
People replying to private adverts to buy or sell registrations
Websites that take payment or record personal information in ways that are not secure
Dealers whose practices may be less than scrupulous
Buying registrations from non-specialist websites
General online auction and marketplace websites are favourite haunts of the fraudsters and there are a number of ways that unsuspecting buyers and sellers can be conned out of their money or their private registrations.
Some degree of protection may be afforded by an auction site's payment platform if it offers buyer protection but there is no guarantee. If one is absolutely determined to buy from one of these sites then one should check what level of anti-fraud protection is offered by the payment method one intends to use, be it credit card or online payment platform.
Another important consideration is the fact that non-specialist websites and auction platforms will not conduct transfers. This presents a risk of the buyer receiving out of date documents, or documents that may have already been used to assign the registration to a car. In such cases, the certificate supplied would be worthless.
Unsurprisingly, our advice to both buyers and sellers is to use an established, bona fide private number plates dealer as an intermediary. Dealers are alert to signs of shady behaviour and provide an insulating layer of security between buyer and seller. If you want to search online auction listings for bargains, use a specialist platform such as the Regtransfers auction.
Always go to a specialist; it's what we are here for.
Other private transactions
Private classified ads in newspapers and magazines are another opportunity for criminals to try it on. Many of the methods used by crooks who advertise online are also used by those who advertise in print media. They may attempt to take payments without providing what they claim to be selling or they may attempt to extract information that could be used later to defraud the victim.
Again, we strongly recommend playing it safe and responding only to advertisements placed by established, specialist dealers.
Even the most scrupulous companies are only as secure as their websites. These days, the majority of online commerce sites meet stringent standards and use secure payment processing services designed to keep customers' bank and payment card details secure. However, there is always the chance of encountering a website that just hasn't kept up with the times. When considering an online transaction, look out for the following:
Ensure the website's address/URL begins with "https://" - the "s" at the end is very important. This ensures a basic level of security. Most sites use this across the whole site these days, but it should certainly be present on pages that are part of any transaction process. Note that some browsers don't display the "https://" part of the address all the time. If you want to check, copy the address from your browser's address bar and then paste it into a text editor such as Windows Notepad. The "https://" should then show up if it is present. If it just says "http://" with no "s" then it's not good enough
Check for indications that the website meets PCI compliance standards. Compliance indicates that the website meets security standards set by banks and credit card companies.
Fortunately, this is a very rare issue. It takes many years of honest dealing, responsive customer service and attention to detail to achieve a reputation that attracts business on its own merits. Most of our competitors, like us, invest in just that kind of hard work but, very occasionally, we hear of companies who seek shortcuts and rely on misleading claims to serve instead of a genuine track record. We suggest you be wary of dealers who ring any of these alarm bells:
Implausibly high numbers of social media followers for the size/age of the company compared to similar dealers
Suspiciously high numbers of positive reviews that are not from verified sales (independent review sites such as Trustpilot mark reviews so users can see which are verified)
Claims or implications that the company is affiliated with DVLA, or that the company has some kind of special or preferential relationship with, or access to, DVLA. DVLA has undertaken not to operate any such relationships with dealers, and all are dealt with on the same professional basis. Furthermore, since the introduction of Covid-19 restrictions, DVLA has closed the office that previously allowed physical visits. All transactions and dealings are now done by post or online. Claims that a dealer will attend DVLA in person to speed up transactions are not to be trusted.
The bottom line
In our opinion, the safest way to buy and sell private registrations is to use the services of an established, specialist dealer, be it Regtransfers or one of our established competitors. You'll benefit from comprehensive security measures and advice informed by many years of experience.