A woman whose number plate was cloned after she advertised her car online said she almost had a nervous breakdown after receiving fines totalling nearly £20,000.
Claire Herron, from Hartlepool, even had bailiffs demanding payment after offences across almost every London borough were wrongly recorded against her.
A victims’ organisation is now calling for a review of legislation around identity theft after it emerged that the authorities were unable to step in because, in the eyes of the law, no crime had been committed against her.
Ms Herron had advertised her Mercedes for sale on Gumtree and had no idea that the plates had been cloned until speeding fines, congestion charge demands and the threat of arrest warrants began to pour through her letterbox.
The first fine came through at Easter 2018, for using a tunnel outside London, she recalled.
“There was a photograph of a car that looked like mine with my plate on – except it wasn’t my car and I hadn’t been in London,” she said.
“I contacted Transport for London straight away and was told it would get sorted out after the bank holiday, but it didn’t, and that was just the start of a very long nightmare.
“The fines just kept coming and coming – parking charges, speeding notices and demands from nearly every borough council in London.
“One was from the City of London Police for driving over London Bridge at 3am, when I was at home in bed in Hartlepool, with my car parked outside my house.
“The car was triggering cameras all over and I couldn’t stop it.”
The stress affected her mental health.
Ms Herron said: “I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown and I started to panic; this was potentially quite sinister, and what if whoever had cloned my plates did something really serious like killing someone in a hit-and-run or something?
“It really started to impact my mental health badly; I reached a point where I physically couldn’t open my post any more.”
Worse was to come when bailiffs visited her 80-year-old mother’s shop, demanding £1,200.
Ms Herron said: “I told her it was all a mistake and to do nothing, that I was on my way.
“When I got to the shop, these big, strapping bailiffs were there, demanding money.
“I hadn’t told my mother about it all as I knew it would cause her stress.
“I tried to explain and went to get all the evidence, but, by the time I got back, my mother had caved in to the pressure and given them £1,200.
“She just couldn’t bear it and wanted them to go away.”
While using someone else’s identity to steal is a crime, because Ms Herron had not suffered financial loss, technically she was not considered a victim.
She was passed between the Cleveland and Metropolitan Police forces and it was not until the Victim Care and Advice Service – a charity funded by her regional Police and Crime Commissioner – that the nightmare was resolved.
Dave Mead, from the charity, said: “Claire was caught in this automated system, and not being viewed as a victim meant she couldn’t be heard at all.”
With the advice service’s help, the number plate was entered into the automatic recognition system and the car located soon afterwards, sp the bailiffs refunded her money.
Steve Turner, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, said: “Claire was caught in a nightmare situation, which she didn’t cause and from which she struggled to release herself.”