How digital solutions can stem number plate fraud

Two vehicles with identical number plates
Two vehicles with identical number plates at the Nairobi County Police headquarters on November 19, 2018. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The recent raid on the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) offices by detectives in an attempt to break a cartel issuing identical car number plates underlined how deep-rooted the crime is.

The focus now shifts to what the government and stakeholders are doing to stem the menace which has spawned national security concerns.

One of the strategies the government has been working on is the provision of the new generation number plates which will replace the existing analogue ones that are easy to fake. The proposed new plates have anti-counterfeit features that include holograms, watermarks, and laser markers. These features will provide the necessary checks against double registration of cars.

However, NTSA has been dragging its feet on issuing the new generation number plates which were initially set to be rolled out in 2015 but then pushed to 2018. To date they are yet to be delivered.

Regionally, Kenya lags behind in rolling out the technology.

Aside from the proposed hi-tech plates, the NTSA has also introduced a windscreen sticker on all new cars with a chip containing all the registration data including ownership. The chip is embedded in the windscreen such that one would have to break it to remove the sticker.

The invention, however, has its own set of challenges, one being the fact that it is hard to stop every car and read the sticker to tell whether the details match with the number plate. Also, traffic law enforcers do not have enough digital readers and those who have rarely care to read them.

Not to be left behind, insurers have also come with their own digital system in a bid to end the double or even multiple insurance of vehicles.

Through their association, they launched an Integrated Motor Insurance Data System last November.

The insurers’ platform provides the best option to deal with double registration as every vehicle, whether stolen or smuggled into the country, must be insured. It will, therefore, be easy for the system set up by the Association of Kenya Insurers (AKI) to flag out a car insured more than once with the same registration details.

When they launched the system, insurers had intended to rein in on fraudsters taking multiple insurance covers for their vehicles and then minting millions through fake claims.

AKI Executive Director Tom Gichuhi told Digital magazine that the system will obviously be useful beyond the taming of insurance fraud through which underwriters have been losing massive revenues.

“Even the police can benefit from our records whenever they are looking for more details about a car which has either been recovered or involved in an accident. Any car insured more than once should obviously raise eyebrows,” Mr Gichuhi said.

The system enables insurance firms to find out in real time, details of a new motor vehicle being insured including its previous covers and claims history.

Underwriters are required to feed the system with the data each time an insurance cover is issued and the system will instantly flag cases of double insurance, double registration or a duplicated number plate.

Fraudsters, in collusion with assessors and insiders within the cover providers, traffic police, garage owners and spare parts dealers, have been running the dark trade where insurance firms are made to pay for non-existent claims as they cannot tell whether the vehicles have been insured elsewhere.

Double registration of cars have also been a key tax evasion scheme with the vehicles meant for transit market being dumped into the country and a fake number plate made for them.

Former Information PS Bitange Ndemo said the number plate mess can only be cleaned through a digital system that detects suspicious duplicates in real time.

He said Kenya has sufficient digital framework through the existing street cameras but has failed to implement the machine readable number plates.

“The digital database should be well planned in such a way that a vehicle passing through the security cameras have all its details including insurance traceable in real time. If two such vehicles are detected through the system, it should take the shortest time possible to arrest the situation,” said Dr Ndemo, who is the University of Nairobi's Business School Associate Professor.

“You cannot achieve this through your naked eye or any human-based intervention effectively. Having machine readable number plates is long overdue.”