Durban - A Berea mother and son who have never driven their silver Honda Civic outside Durban were informed this week that they owed R460 in Johannesburg e-tolls.
Helen and Mark Ziegler also received a R750 speeding fine in 2013 – the photographed vehicle on the fine being a replica of their car.
However, on the date in question, Helen - a teacher - was at a school conference in Durban, using her vehicle to get there and back, while Mark - a hockey coach - was in Johannnesburg, but had flown there.
Helen said on Wednesday: “I was a bit concerned, and got the school to write a letter confirming where I was.
“I sent it to the traffic department and just thought of it as an error, as I never received a response to my e-mail or heard anything of the fine again.”
But when she opened her post on Tuesday, Helen found two e-toll invoices, each for R230.
At the time of the alleged e-toll charges, Helen had been in Johannesburg, but had flown there, while Mark had been in Cape Town for a hockey tournament.
“My car was in the garage, not being used. It wouldn’t even have made it that far. We only use it as a run-around,” she said.
Although she was not sure how her number plate had been cloned, Helen said the vehicle had been stolen in Durban North two years before and found the next day, abandoned near Phoenix.
It remained at the police pound for about a month while documentation was obtained for her to have it released.
Zurika Louw, the chief executive of the SA Number Plates Association, said it was possible that it was during this time that the vehicle’s details were used to clone another plate. However, she said it would have been just as easy to have cloned it at another time.
“To copy a plastic number plate is very easy.”
“People buy white Perspex and cut out letters and numbers from blue vinyl tape. You can’t see the difference on camera, although the cloned plate is not reflective.”
False plates were also made by unscrupulous number plate makers, she said.
Louw said the problem was “extremely rife”, and more vehicles were expected to have cloned plates with the introduction of the e-toll system, as drivers sought to avoid paying tolls.
Clever “cloners” also used false plates on the same type and colour of vehicle as the original.
She said the only way to distinguish vehicles was by things such as dents, scratches and bumper stickers.
Vusi Mona, a spokesman for the SA National Roads Agency, said there had been a few cases of “suspect” vehicles, but that procedures were in place to establish whether vehicles were genuinely registered.
“If we are satisfied that a vehicle charged for the e-toll is not the certified vehicle then the owner does not have to pick up the bill.”
Motorists who dispute their e-toll invoices should phone 080 072 6725. - The Mercury