A mafia of sorts is controlling the bidding of much sought after vehicle number plates, buying the numbers up, hoarding them and then selling them off at hugely inflated prices.
Vehicle owners eyeing popular number plates have to go through these agents and their runners, who put in earlier bids for the numbers before offering them to interested buyers.
These agents even have the audacity to claim that they have been doing this with the approval of the authorities.
A runner, who only wanted to be known as Matthew, claimed he and several of his counterparts actually have offices in the Road Transport Department.
“We will usually wait there. When a request comes for numbers that we have personally pre-booked, the officers would bring them over to our office and we would negotiate the deal,” he claimed.
Explaining how runners work, Matthew said they would book or buy numbers early.
“They will give us a time period to check the availability of the numbers. However, we cannot get ‘VIP numbers’ as most of those are reserved for the family members and friends of the VVIPs.”
“The number plates need to be registered to a vehicle within a month of purchase, so if we fail to find a buyer, we either pay a small sum to extend the deadline or buy a cheap motorbike to attach the number,” he said.
Matthew said there was a motorcycle shop near a JPJ office where runners could personally bring their customers to pick their desired number plates.
He said some customers wanted proof that the numbers they requested were really available.
“We would then bring them to the shop and show it to them, or take photos of the bike with the plate and send it to them.”
For example, he said they might sell a number plate for RM2,000 besides charging another RM2,500 for the motorcycle, depending on the type of machine.
“If the buyer does not want the bike, then we charge a different price for them,” he added.
The registration number can then be transferred to the buyer’s vehicle.
He said the runners, who would “advertise” the offer of number plates on their websites, said “interesting numbers” such as 2222 or 5757 usually cost between RM2,000 and RM7,000 while special numbers like 3636 cost no less than RM5,000.
“As for golden numbers, it can run into six digits,” he said adding that these were numbers like 33 or 77.
An agent who specialises in selling numbers online said the final price would depend on how much the agents had paid for the earlier bid.
The agent, known only as Kit, said: “Our job is to just get the numbers. A lot of people want these numbers and the competition is tough out there.”
“Those of us in this business have our own set of clients. Some are high profile individuals. Once we have these registration numbers, they will be offered to our privileged customers or those who come to us through recommendations,” he said.
Kit said even ordinary Malaysians were keen on special number plates.
“Just last month, a man who works as a technician spent RM7,800 to buy a specific number for his new car.
“He told me it was his first new car and said he hoped the number would bring him and his family luck,” he said.
A JPJ spokesman said there is little that the department can do about bidders who “hoard” registration numbers and resell them at higher prices.
“We do not pick and choose the people we sell the numbers to. So, the hoarding of registration number plates and reselling is not illegal,” said the JPJ spokesman.
He explained that the procedures allowed for the highest bidder to get the number plate.
However, he said the department would keep tabs on the situation following growing public complaints about the matter.
“We are aware that many car owners are not pleased as they feel these numbers are being hoarded. We are looking into how we can fix this situation,” he said.
As for the bidding process, the spokesman said that JPJ would first put up the number for bidding with a minimum price tag.
“The bidding then starts and the highest bidder will get that number plate. We will, of course, look into their record.
“If the bidders are from companies, we will make sure they have a valid registration and are not foreign companies.”
“Once the bidder has been confirmed, they need to pay 50% of the amount. After the money is collected, we will open the tender box and rank it.”
He said the successful bidder must make the full payment within a month.
“If not, we will take it back,” he said.
The buyers, he said, were free to sell on the registration numbers to others at a marked-up price. He said there were three categories of numbers – golden, popular and “interesting numbers”.
The bidding price for popular numbers starts at RM300, he said, while “interesting numbers” starts at RM2,000.
As for golden numbers – single digit numbers and 10 – would cost at least RM10,000.
A check on websites selling number plates showed that they were offering them at prices that were way above the minimum bidding price set by JPJ.
Golden numbers are being sold for up to RM150,000. Popular numbers and “interesting numbers” range between RM1,500 and RM11,000.