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‘Ghost’ garages, false plates, identity theft: car crime in France

Criminals use stolen identities to register garage businesses and issue fake car registrations

Victims realise something is wrong only when they receive fines for road offences Pic: Jose HERNANDEZ Camera 51 / Shutterstock

Identity thieves are exploiting the trend for moving administrative processes online to create ‘ghost garages’ which offer vehicle registration certificates under stolen names.

Victims realise something is wrong only when they receive fines for road offences or, in one reported case, a call from the police over a vehicle used as a getaway car.

Criminals apply for cartes grises online

The crooks use stolen identity details to register a garage and premises with the chambre de métiers and then apply to issue cartes grises vehicle documents.

As more and more administrative processes move online, rather than being dealt with in person in prefectures, scammers are finding it easier to do this. 

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The cartes grises are then sold illegally and allow the motorists who buy them to drive, in effect, registered cars that cannot easily be traced to them.

The carte grise lets the driver get a contrôle technique (MOT), meaning the vehicle appears to be in order if checked by police. 

However, when vehicles with the false plates fall foul of the law, it is the person whose identity has been stolen who is assumed responsible – and who receives the penalties.

Some crimes on massive scale

One anonymous victim, a salesman with one car, told TF1 of his horror on finding out he was ‘officially’ owner of a garage with a fleet of more than 250 vehicles.

His lawyers have managed to freeze, but not get rid of, the €250,000 in fines for speeding, parking and other offences which drivers of cars with the illegally issued number plates have racked up.

Police on the other side of the country even contacted him after a hold-up because the getaway car had a number plate linked to him.

When journalists went to the registered address of the garage, they found an empty shop, with a flat converted into offices above. 

The owner had no idea the garage business was registered with him and when he alerted the chambre de commerce, he was told they could not do anything without a demand from the local procureur de la république.

Read more: How did French garage get my details to send letter about car test?

‘Ghost garages’ have spread all over France

According to TF1, most ‘ghost garages’ were initially confined to the north of France, but they can now be found all over the country.

Authorities are working to shut down the networks, but the process is painstaking and time-consuming.

One idea that has been mooted is to physically verify a company’s address before it can be legally registered.

The chambre de commerce for Roubaix told TF1 it has shut five false garages, but can only do so after an order from a judge.

The director of Roubaix’s municipal police, Christian Belpaire, said demand for fraudulent cartes grises was being driven by people using them to evade speeding fines and motoring penalties.

They are also popular with drug smugglers and other criminal gangs, who use falsely registered vehicles to travel without being tracked.

Carte grise checks are become stricter

Concern about false cartes grises has led to a tightening of procedures when it comes to issuing them, a spokeswoman for the Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie Hauts-de-France told The Connexion.

This includes using electronic certificates to help verify the identity of an individual or company first and establish credentials.

“Checks are becoming stricter and stricter and the eligibility criteria are now so tight that even some garages which have been operating for several years legally are finding it hard to meet them,” the spokeswoman said.

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