Transport for London has provided a handy tool for those who would like to use false numberplates to fool any of the various networks of automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras now deployed across much of the UK.
Using the capital's online congestion charge payment system, anyone can swiftly check what make and colour of vehicle is recorded in the UK's national DVLA database for any given registration number. No payment or identification is necessary.
This would obviously be a boon to those intending to false-flag a vehicle, as it would be possible to keep trying different registrations until one came across a record of the correct vehicle make and colour.
Say you have a black Porsche 911 GT2. Keep trying registrations here until you get one of those. (Starting with the right year will speed things up. So will the use of an automated bot. Just to be safe, prospective villains should also route via an anonymous proxy server, or hook up via someone else's Wi-Fi or an internet cafe or something.)
Then buy or make plates or overlays showing the number which gave the hit, and put them on your 530-horsepower pocket rocket. Now you can happily drive in and out of London without paying your soon-to-be £25 congestion charge; barrel past speed cameras as fast as you like; drive in bus lanes; park illegally; fill up at petrol stations and drive off without paying. The fine demands and summonses will all be sent to someone else.
If you get randomly numberplate-scanned by human traffic cops, or eyeballed by a CCTV operator, you should be OK as their system will indicate that you're in the right type of car for the plates.
Obviously, you don't need to use TfL. You could simply wander or drive around until you saw a car of the correct type, and copy its plates. But the online method is potentially a lot quicker and less troublesome, which is a factor. You really want to change your false plates fairly often, as the authorities will soon become aware that someone other than the registered user is using them. That's where the automated bot is a particularly handy idea.
Alternatively, of course, you might not be wanting to carry out a string of motoring offences. You might simply want to move about without creating a log of your travels in the various ANPR systems. Either method of harvesting plates would do for this purpose, TfL or manual. If the cops, spooks, or other minions of the state ever ran a search using your ordinary, legit plates, they would never find out about your ghost journeys.
The TfL online payment system would come in handy there, too, as you could pay the congestion charges resulting from any London trips. Then even the real owner of your false plates would be none the wiser. (Don't use your own credit card, though, eh.)
As of going to press, TfL hadn't yet commented on this aspect of the Congestion Charging system. But they promised to get back to us ASAP - we'll keep you posted.®
Thanks to Reg reader Eric for the headsup - though we really should have thought of it ourselves. Cheers also to the readers who point out that you can do the same with some insurance company and motor-trade websites.