Is your licence a ‘fake’?

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A Motorcyclist says he was treated like a criminal after DVLA issued him with a driving licence containing a hidden incriminating message. 

Michael Harris’ licence appears normal until photocopied, when the word “fake” appears several times across the bottom.

He is one of nearly four million people to be issued with such a licence in an effort to prevent photocopies being passed off as originals. 

But police and employers are largely unaware of the measure.

As a result Harris faced losing his job and was held by police after presenting the licence to his employer.  

Harris, 62, a mechanical fitter from Oakland, Derbyshire, said: “I’d just started a new job and the boss said I could use a company vehicle if I showed him my licence. He photocopied it and saw the result.

“He threw the licence back at me and asked if it was a joke.”

To keep his job, Harris went to the police in the hope they could shed light on the hidden message. But when he presented it in Derby, the officer on reception pressed a button under the counter which instantly locked the station door.

Harris said: “She photocopied it and then copied the licences of three other officers at the station to see if they were the same.

“At that point she locked me in the station. Then a six-foot policeman appeared and stood between me and the door.”

Harris was held for an hour while officers contacted DVLA, but even the agency’s headquarters in Swansea were not immediately able to explain. 

“They were on the phone a good 20 minutes to Swansea and nobody knew anything about it,” said Harris. “It was only a long-term employee, who must have overheard, who happened to remember the licences had been issued.

“The police thought it was hilarious because nobody knew about it.”

A DVLA spokesman said 3.7 million licences containing the hidden message “fake” or “copy” were issued in 1991 and 1992. The trial was abandoned due to “confusion”. 

The spokesman said DVLA did not know how many were still in circulation. “It’s fair to say there will be a certain amount still out there,” he added.

He said: “It was a trial to help combat fraud but because of the number of banks and other places that look at licences as an identity document, it was causing confusion.

“So we listened to feedback at the time and let it fizzle out.

“One of the issues was that, with better quality photocopiers, the risk was you could make a copy and pass it off as a real one.”

He said photocard licences had made the measure unnecessary.

Steve Farrell

By Steve Farrell