MOTORISTS and garages have been put on alert after number plates were stolen to disguise cars used in fuel thefts.
The plates, stolen from private vehicles in Peterlee and Seaham, have been used on vehicles which have been filled up with large amounts of fuel by thieves, who have driven off without paying.
One criminal has also been spotted filling containers with petrol and loading them on to a vehicle before driving off.
Inspector Dave Coxon, from the Peterlee neighbourhood team, said: “We’ve had 10 of these incidents in East Durham in the last four weeks – five in the Peterlee and Seaham area and five in the Durham area.
“Some of the plates were stolen from cars parked outside people’s homes, but we had one this week stolen from a car parked in a supermarket car park.
“It’s a double-edged theft, stealing the number plate in the first place then using it to steal fuel.”
People are being reminded they can fit number plates with tamper-proof screws, which can be bought from automotive or hardware stores.
Members of the public are also being asked to contact police if they see anyone tampering with a car number plate.
“Everyone can have a part to play in curbing this crime,” added Insp Coxon.