Licence plate theft has risen sharply in Sheffield, new figures show, as criminals seek to beat the latest technology.
A total of 680 were reported stolen across the city last year, up from 501 in 2013, a Freedom of Information request by The Star has revealed.
Thieves were most rampant in Attercliffe, where 122 number plates were taken between 2013 and the end of July this year.
Other hot spots included Longley and Parson Cross, with 89 licence plate thefts recorded in each neighbourhood during that period.
Police put the growing numbers down to advances in ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) technology, making stolen plates increasingly valuable as a tool to hide criminal activity.
Officers say there is no way for motorists to guarantee their vehicles are protected, but a number of simple measures can help reduce your chances of being targeted.
Inspector Craig Clifton, from South Yorkshire Police’s Roads Policing Group, said: “The reason criminals steal number plates, and quite possibly the reason numbers of reported thefts have risen, is because of the advancement in ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) technology.
“Number plates are stolen for a variety of reasons to mask criminality.
“In order to protect your number plate, if it isn’t permanently affixed to the vehicle then it’s vulnerable and because we change plates generally they are not a permanent fixture.
“All people can do is make the plates harder to remove, so ensure they are screwed on with anti-theft screws rather than affixed with double-sided tape.
“You could also use anti-theft number plates which break upon removal. It’s worth trying to park in less conspicuous areas to make it harder for criminals to hide while removing the plates.”
The figures emerged in the week police revealed how a luxury car stolen in Skegness had been brought to Sheffield using false plates held on with rubber bands.
On Wednesday morning, an eagled-eyed member of the public noticed the Chrysler 300 on Southey Hall Road in Southey Green.
Police investigated and found the car had been recently stolen from the Skegness area, where it will now be returned to its owner.
Officers thanked the member of the public for reporting the car, joking that they would prefer Sheffielders to bring back sticks of rock from the seaside town rather than stolen vehicles.
Between 2013 and the end of July this year, 3,051 number plates were reported stolen from vehicles across Sheffield.
So far, 2018 is on course to be quieter than 2017, with 325 thefts reported during the first seven months of the year.
Hot spots so far this year include the city centre, where 44 thefts were recorded; Darnall, with 24; Southey, with 22; and Gleadless Valley, with 20.
The AA says stolen plates are being used to disguise cars used in crimes ranging from evading parking fines to ram-raiding or burglary, as well as changing the identity of a stolen car so it can be sold.
To protect your plates, it advises drivers to use a garage at night if possible, and to park in busy, well-lit areas of the street or car parks, as well as using security screws or theft-resistant number plants
It also urges people to be good citizens and call police on 101 if they see someone else’s car with a missing plate or different plates on the back and front of the vehicle.
The new batch of ‘68’ licence plates are set to be introduced this Saturday.
Ahead of their launch, MoneySuperMarket has released research showing drivers with personalised number plates are 50 per cent more likely to have their vehicle stolen.
It has found that almost a fifth of motorists have owned personalised plates at some point, with these bespoke plates occasionally proving more valuable than the vehicle itself.
Kevin Pratt, consumer affairs expert at MoneySuperMarket, said: “As the release of the new ‘68’ plate launch approaches, more ‘non-standard’ plates become available to buy, and many people will be considering getting a personalised plate of their own. However, if you do choose to get one, there are a few things to consider.
“Firstly, you need to ensure that your insurer is aware of your new plate details, so it can be reflected in your policy - your cover could be invalidated otherwise.
“Owners of a personalised plate should also be conscious that in the event their vehicle is written-off or stolen and they make a claim on their insurance, the car will become the property of the insurer, along with the plate.
“To avoid this happening, it’s vital the driver tells the DVLA and also the insurer that they wish to keep the plate. If they don’t do this and the car is sent to the scrap yard or the plate is sold on, they’ll lose all rights to use the personalised plate in the future.”
LICENCE PLATE THEFTS IN SHEFFIELD
2018 (until July 31) – 325
2017 – 680
2016 – 472
2015 – 475
2014 – 598
2013 – 501
Total – 3,051
LICENCE PLATE THEFT HOT SPOTS
Attercliffe – 122
Beighton – 70
Chapeltown – 65
Ecclesfield – 65
Handsworth – 68
Hillsborough – 69
Longley – 89
Park – 70
Parson Cross – 89
Ranmoor – 67
Wincobank – 69
* total thefts recorded between 2013 and end of July 2018