PLANT security specialists have warned of an increasing trade in telehandler 'cloning', where the machines are stolen from site, given new identities, then quickly sold back to unwitting punters.
Police are concerned at the sophisticated methods for altering the identity of machines.
According to plant tracker TER, plant thieves have become so determined to disguise stolen telehandlers that they are giving them the identities of foreign machines, which are accurate down to the separate axle and engine numbers.
TER's spokesman Tim Purbrick said: 'Thieves are now cloning the machines, changing everything from VIN to engine to axle numbers.They're even copying each manufacturers'style of identity plate.But, rather than using a serial number from the UK that could be traced by the DVLA or by the police, they are lifting numbers from equivalent machines in other countries.'
The cloned machines use so much accurate information that investigators suspect that someone has taken sensitive data from factories where the machines are built.
So far TER has recovered machines from Manitou, Caterpillar and JCB that have identities 'borrowed' from models in Italy, Spain, France and New Zealand.Customers are duped into thinking the machines are bona fide as they do not feature on police lists of stolen equipment.
Mr Purbrick said: 'We cannot stress enough that customers of used equipment should go through due diligence before they buy a telehandler.You can no longer trust the stamped-in number.
'Our investigators have ways of identifying stolen machines but the copies are becoming harder to spot by the man in the street. If you pay for stolen plant, you stand to lose everything.
'Thieves are now trying to get at every identifying mark, presumably because they can make more money by getting rid of a machine in the UK by cloning it than they can by getting it out of the country. It may cost them £400 to copy the plates but the rest is profit.'
The presence of so much foreign identification data has left both police and manufacturers scratching their heads as to the criminals' source.
Mr Purbrick added: 'We are still investigating how it could happen, but the copies are good.'