AS many as 300,000 vehicles may be driving on Britain's roads with cloned number plates - and the problem is not confined to cars.
Vehicle security company Tracker is flagging up statistics which reveal that one in 12 of the 37 million cars, lorries and motorbikes registered in the UK is likely to have false plates.
While vehicle cloning is most commonly associated with cars, it is increasingly being used to hide the identity of stolen motorcycles.
More than 26,000 motorcycles are stolen every year and many are often used for serious criminal offences such as burglaries and robberies.
Andy Barrs, head of police liaison at Tracker, said: "Fraudsters continue to use more sophisticated methods to hide the true identity of stolen motorcycles and then sell them on to innocent buyers who think they're getting a dream bike at a bargain price.
"The majority of bikes that are stolen are less than three years old and a staggering 80 per cent of all cloned motorcycles end up in the dealer network."
Cloning is the vehicle equivalent of identity fraud - criminals steal a motorbike or scooter and give it a new identity copied from a similar make and model bike already on the road.
The criminal disguises the unique 17 digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the stolen motorcycle and uses a stolen V5/logbook to try to legitimise its identity. A vehicle with a cloned identity is more difficult for police to identify, and in turn, easier for a thief to sell on.
Tracker says that data from the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators - a global organisation representing those involved in the prevention of car crime - shows an estimated 0.8 per cent of all vehicles in Britain may have been cloned.
Fraudsters use cloning to sell a stolen motorcycle for a quick profit and Tracker is now warning that buyers should look out for any bike with a ‘too good to be true' price tag.
They say that prospective buyers should always check the market value and avoid anything that's being offered for less than 70 per cent of that price, stressing that no legitimate seller will want to lose money on a sale.
Buyers should never pay cash only for a vehicle, particularly if they are paying more than £3,000 as most crooks would rather walk away from a sale than take a payment that can be traced back to them.
"Whilst a tracking device won't stop a motorbike being stolen, it can significantly increase the chances of the police locating and returning it to its rightful owner," said Mr Barrs.
"Without any SVR (stolen vehicle recovery) protection, the probability of a stolen bike being offered for sale as a clone is greatly increased."