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12 Feb, 2010 05:18

Russian drivers face danger of license plate fraud

License plate fraud has become a crime to which any car driver in Russia can fall victim. It entails serious risks for the drivers and poses a dire challenge to authorities.

After the New Year holidays I received a speeding fine in the mail. My father paid it because he saw my license plate number on it and just decided to pay,” recalls Daniil Klimov. “But when I took a closer look at the photograph I saw that this wasn’t my car. First of all, I didn’t drive on that road that day – it’s quite far from here. Besides, the car in the picture is different from mine in many ways.”

Klimov is just one of many Russian drivers who has been a victim of car license plate duplication, which under the current legal conditions has become relatively easy to carry out.

Databases containing car registration details require no effort to find. In fact, anyone enthusiastic enough can find it at a market. The database purchased in Moscow, for example, gives one access to all the details of registered cars in the city, including license plate numbers, names, addresses and phone numbers of the owners.

Using such databases criminals can steal a car that is the same make and model as the car that is legally registered, duplicate the number plate as well as forge documents for the stolen car. All this is done in the name of the owner of the legal car.

The scheme is nearly foolproof. If traffic police pull over the illegal car, the driver has to simply produce a letter from an attorney that says the legal owner has given permission for the car to be driven – a document that is easy to forge.

“Nobody would think of giving a gun to another person on the basis of a power of attorney. There are a lot of documents required for a gun,” says Mikhail Pashkin, Head of the Traffic Police Trade Union’s Coordination Committee. “But you can write a power of attorney and drive a stolen car and even kill 10 people with it in the street. You don’t even need a notary authorization for that. I think it is nonsense.”

An issue that complicates the situation is the fact that there is no single car and car owner database for the entire country. This allows thieves to steal a car in one region and drive it to another where they can use it freely and unchecked.

The current system is corrupt,” says Pashkin. “Gangs operate with help from police members. There is no single database in Russia, despite the fact that we live in an internet age and it would be reasonably easy to implement. We need to replace those among the authorities who are trying to block this being put in place.”

The dangers of becoming the owner of a car whose plate number has been duplicated are numerous and the implications are terrifying.

If there’s a duplicate of my car somewhere out there, it’s trouble. Today I got the bill for 300 rubles, but tomorrow it might be 1000 rubles and then, God forbid, I might be called to court if they run over someone. And then what would I do?” asks Klimov.