Petrol thieves use stolen number plates to fool CCTV
Unscrupulous motorists are fitting stolen number plates to cars to avoid paying for petrol or motorway tolls.
The fraudsters are targeting cars of similar make and model to their own vehicles and stealing the registration plates from them.
The stolen plates are then fitted over the existing ones, front and rear, and the motorists fill up their tanks with petrol or diesel and drive off without paying. This ensures that the genuine registration numbers are not shown on station CCTV footage.
The false plates are quickly removed down the road and the scam merchants escape, while the real owners of the plates can expect a visit from the gardai about the theft of petrol.
Gardai say there has also been evidence of another scam where motorists cover their number plates with black tape, but this is less popular as alert filling station staff can quickly spot the tape on their screens.
"Complaints about the theft of number plates to avoid paying for fuel are very much on the increase, particularly in the past year," one officer told the Irish Independent last night.
"The impact of the recession and the high prices of petrol and fuel are obviously contributory factors to this type of crime," he added.
Some station owners are taking preventative measures to stop the thefts and are operating pre-paid pumps at night, particularly in the border counties and parts of Dublin.
The stolen plates are also being used to avoid motorway toll charges. Fee dodgers have abandoned their previous avoidance method, known as tailgating, where they drove close behind a large truck in an effort to avoid being picked up on camera.
This did not prove to be very successful as many of the vehicles were identified from their rear registration plates.
But the use of the stolen plates is causing serious problems for toll operators, who send out bills to unsuspecting motorists and discover they have been scammed.
Vehicle owners are now being asked to display some distinctive item on their cars if their plates have been stolen in the past and this will allow the toll operators to determine if the plates are genuine in the event of a dispute over payment.
One victim of the plate thieves is retired RTE journalist Barry Linnane, whose registration plates were removed from his blue Renault Megane while it was parked outside his home in Dundrum, Dublin, last Friday morning.
"It seems that the thieves specifically targeted my car," he said last night.
"I notified the gardai immediately about the theft and they explained the background to me. I also made sure to notify the M50 toll operators and agreed with them to place a distinctive item on the windscreen of my car."