The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Registry of Motor Vehicles or the Bureau of Motor Vehicles: regardless of the naming of the agency that oversees vehicle registrations and licencing within a US state, the job is difficult, important and reliant on a massive silo of limited data. This is a challenging responsibility in any state or country with varied laws and enforcement methods, in addition to the changing rules and increasing responsibility to support other agencies. Overseeing and enforcing driver testing, licence issuance, vehicle registration, suspensions and revocation is demanding enough. The addition of new requirements such as the licencing of illegal immigrants and the demand to cut costs such as labour expenses and reduce waiting times creates further pressure on these agencies.
Of all the responsibilities of each DMV, the most important is the verification and authentication of an individual’s identity when issuing a licence. Why is this so important? For example, 18 of the 19 9/11 terrorists held a total of 35 legitimate US driving licences in the names of others, and the licences were issued by five different states. These licences allowed the hijackers to avoid the terrorist watch list and board the planes that allowed them to carry out the attack.
Use of driving licences
A driving licence entitles the holder to a variety of privileges by linking the displayed identity – name, address and date of birth – with the photo on the licence. A licence is used to verify age, driving privileges and right to travel and can be used to obtain documents such as passports, birth certificates and social security cards. Additionally, licences are also a legitimate form of identification which can be used to open bank accounts, obtain student loans, buy property and/or vehicles, order credit cards and even file for government benefits. Therefore, issuing a licence with the photo of one person and the identity of another person is a golden ticket to identity theft and a basic building block towards downstream fraud and deception.
Why would an individual pose as someone else, or why would an individual try to obtain a second licence? There are a variety of reasons:
to travel whilst listed on a national or terrorist
- to gain government benefits such as unemployment benefit, food stamps and housing;
- to evade law enforcement when a warrant is issued on their real identity;
- to allow illegal immigrants to stay in the US under a false identity and to drive and travel;
- to buy or obtain a car, lorry, or property under another name for criminal purposes;
- to rent a property as a drug drop-off location;
- to be able to drive while faced with a suspended or revoked licence;
- as a backup licence in case the holder is charged with a driving offence or receives a ticket;
- to commit drug offenses or trade as a drug dealer under the radar;
- to enable underage drinking;
- to commit voter fraud.
As stated above, there are several reasons for an individual to desire a second or even a third licence under another identity and all of them are illegal. Holding a fraudulent licence allows criminals and terrorists to act anonymously and to commit criminal offenses under another person’s identity.
The challenge facing licensing agencies is that they are often tasked with determining identities using incomplete, inaccurate and misleading information. Here are some of the challenges that they face:
Who are you and where do you live? This is generally the first question asked when applying for a licence or state government ID. This information is submitted and substantiated by an identity document such a birth certificate, a licence from another state, or perhaps a passport. The address is substantiated by a recent utility bill or a lease or title on a property in the applicant’s name. Most of these documents can be easily created or modified with fraudulent information. There are websites that specialise in creating these documents inexpensively, which are then emailed to you within minutes.
Dynamic and synthetic identities
Identities change over time. Names can change, but addresses change much more frequently. The US Census Bureau reports that 14.1% of the US population, or 44,200,000 people, move every year. Therefore, the ability to obtain a duplicate licence using a dynamic identity increases dramatically. In addition, an individual’s Social Security Number (SSN), although very unlikely to change, can be accidentally or deliberately modified to appear as someone else’s. However, DMVs see applicants as a static identity. For example, Elizabeth Smith gets married and moves to a new address while simultaneously changing her name to Beth Jones. Beth now lives in another state and gets a second licence while holding a licence in the first state. While applying for the second licence she changes one digit of her SSN. If the new state does not check via the Social Security administration’s online verification system, she will have a new legitimate licence under a synthetic identity.
States only have information on the citizens within their own borders. As soon as a new citizen appears, there is no historical information within the state’s database regarding this new entrant. They may have a licence from the previous state, which is usually not checked but taken as legitimate information. There is therefore no consistent system of checks and balances.
Licences for illegal immigrants
Even more challenging are the new laws requiring states to give licences to illegal immigrants, whose documentation may come from a foreign country and cannot be verified. In addition, if they just arrived in the country, they may not have a verifiable address. The new licence will therefore only verify that the person in the photo has passed the driving test and is allowed to drive.
In most US states there have been incidences of state employees participating in licencing scams, such as creating real licences containing false identification information. Other forms of employee enrichment schemes include helping an applicant to cheat on the driving test, filling out the application with a current driver’s information with slight modifications to the SSN, or arranging to be at a certain DMV counter to accept applications from specific people who have paid a fee to the employee in advance.
Licences issued under a false identity result in criminal enablement, enabling the holder to commit offenses without fear of consequences. Below are some examples of crimes within Homeland Security, relating to social services and public safety.
Examples of Enablement:
Replacing old with new licence
A 2012 report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) studied the current methods of surrendering a licence from one state and obtaining a new licence from a second state. The GAO fraudulently created licences and used them to obtain new licences in a second state. It was determined that all three states that were involved, accepted and never checked the validity of the surrendered licences. Thus, they traded a false for a real licence and allowed the false identity to pass onto the new licence along with the photo of the imposter. The GAO went on to say that this is a significant flaw in the cross-border system, but that it will not be fixed until 2023.
In November 2012, foreign student Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari was sentenced to life in prison in Texas for attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. Aldawsari planned to attack nuclear power plants, reservoirs, dams and New York City streets during rush hour. His steps included obtaining a forged US birth certificate to apply for a US passport and then obtain multiple valid driving licences. Aldawsari lacked only a single chemical to complete his explosives before he was arrested by the FBI.
Social services include numerous benefits programmes, the majority of which only require a simple check of a licence or a licence number as proof of residency. A licence becomes that golden ticket which is assumed to be a) legitimate, b) accurate and c) proof of residency. Here are some of the programmes that a fictitious licence will help the holder to defraud: unemployment, food stamps, public housing, welfare, social security, Medicaid, Medicare, workers’ compensation and veterans’ benefits.
The most basic element of becoming licenced to operate a vehicle is that the applicant has taken and passed both the written and physical driving test. Illegally procured licences placed in the hands of illegal non-citizens and criminals create a true hazard to public safety, as the holders may not possess the necessary skills or knowledge to drive safely. The avoidance of a licence suspension or revocation through the use of a secondary licence again puts the public at risk. Another problem is the issue of underage drinking and driving, possibly leading to fatal accidents. Lastly, criminals may also use falsified licences to hide their identities, thus avoiding arrest and allowing their criminal activity to continue.
Former DMV senior motor vehicle technician Alfonso Casarez, 51, of Fresno, has been sentenced to five years and one month in prison for his involvement in conspiracies to sell official California driving licences to ineligible individuals. Mr Casarez electronically altered DMV records to show that applicants for ‘Class C’ or ‘Class A’ commercial licences had passed the required written and behind-the-wheel tests when in fact they had not, prosecutors said. But based on the information that he entered into the DMV records, the DMV issued official California driving licences to the applicants. His sister, Rosemary Fierros, passed information and money from the applicants to him for the licences. She was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison. Other co-conspirators recruited individuals to apply for the fraudulently issued driving licences. “We depend on the honesty of public employees to apply the laws that are designed to keep our roads and highways safe,” US attorney Benjamin Wagner stated. “This sentence should serve as a wake-up call to any public official who thinks nothing of jeopardising public safety and security in order to feed his or her own greed,” adds Mike Prado, resident agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Fresno.
Solving the problem – What can be done?
Most DMVs utilise the SSN as the recognised identifier for US citizens and immigrants who are legally present in the country. The SSN ties an individual’s name and date and place of birth together to create an identity that is supposed to be unique. Over the last ten years, theft and misuse of SSNs have become commonplace and the uniqueness of the SSN is no longer guaranteed. Identity fraud is the basis for the majority of crimes against government programmes, by means of the misuse of stolen SSNs. SSNs and critical identification information have become easy to obtain from schools, medical facilities, athletic departments and places of business.
In addition, modified identities or synthetic identities have also become common. A synthetic identity, where some of the identity information is modified allowing the new identity to look like another person, creates difficulty in resolving identities. Getting a licence for a synthetic identity creates serious issues: who is the real party, where do they live, how can authorities contact them?
LexisNexis (LN) tracks 585 million unique identities in the US. In addition to most of the current citizens, this also includes the deceased, incarcerated and foreign nationals. With all this information, LN associates each identity with a 12-digit identifier called a Lex-ID number. This is an internal replacement for an SSN for everyone in the country. Why is this needed? Because so many identities have been stolen and SSNs are readily available to criminals, meaning that a single SSN can have multiple people tied to it and not allow true identity uniqueness.
With this national information, DMV records can be audited to look for the deceased, incarcerated, those that have never lived in the state but hold a licence, those who live at a different address than claimed, SSNs that don’t match the name of the licence holder, SSNs that don’t exist, etc. LN can run a general report for any state showing how many licence holders fall into each category, with detailed examples of each category. Additionally, it is also possible for them to analyse the total number of licensable drivers vs. the number of currently issued licences.
Augmenting existing DMV files with Lex-ID could solve a multitude of problems:
• Catch individuals that register multiple times under similar identities with slightly modified SSNs. Take for example an individual with the legal full name Laurence Kevin Benson. Possible modifications would include: Larry Benson (123-00-6789), Lawrence K. Benson (128-00-6789) and L. Kevin Benson (123-00-6787). Each submission looks like a different individual, but they will all share one common Lex-ID number.
• Catch fraud tied to the use of identities from either deceased or incarcerated individuals on a state and national basis.
• Eliminate boundary blindness by allowing parallel DMV programmes access to data on duplicate licences across state lines, without sharing any personally identifiable information.
• Catch illegal immigrants or criminals using false SSNs to obtain a licence or gain benefits.
Government DMVs are severely handicapped by the old systems, lack of manpower, a dependence on self-reported data and boundary blindness. Criminals are aided by the above government handicaps, plus they have the latest technology and access to, or the ability to create, false identities.
Agencies need to leverage their joint strengths in order to combat fraud, waste and abuse. Appending Lex-ID to existing systems would be a significant step towards combating fraud.
LN’s InstantID® can help automate identity verification processes to more efficiently prevent identity theft. It is a configurable service for the validation and verification of identity information. The results include:
- an index summarising the level of verification from 0 (high identity theft risk) to 50 (low identity theft risk);
- potential risk indicators for higher-level issues;
- additional identity information to enhance due diligence efforts;
- a review of the results, both individually and in
Perceptive Intelligence’s Law Enforcement Network Sharing Solution (LENSS) offers another potential solution. This tool offers the ability to share information about all policing incidents in real time and allows all involved parties to communicate and coordinate with one another.
When an officer stops a vehicle and queries the tag, the system will inform them of all officers who have previously stopped the same vehicle or run its identification. It also reports back to the previous officers that this same vehicle or individual is either being questioned, stopped or arrested by email and text message within thirty seconds.
Currently, all information regarding an incident is held across several agencies and databases. With the LENSS system, all these steps can be accessed on one screen, on any device, and any other officer who has previously stopped, interviewed or arrested the individual will also be informed.
These services are now offered to local county sheriffs and police departments directly and on a per inquiry batch basis. The ability to compare individuals’ personal driving licence identification data with vast public records will highlight those that are breaking federal law, without requiring a warrant. These may be persons who are not only hiding their real identity but committing other crimes which might otherwise be difficult to track.
This is a major step forward in the protection of the community and law enforcement officers, ensuring that they know who they are speaking with and preparing them for any eventuality.
The technology is everchanging and no one even thought that we would reach these heights that are so necessary today. Corporations and even small high street business must know who they are dealing with; fraud touches everyone. Identification is a must, but is it real?
LexisNexis and Perceptive Intelligence work hand in hand with both corporations and law enforcement globally to identify individuals and events in real-time. That is the level of protection we demand. Remember nothing is ever 100% secure, it takes effort from all sides, including the public, to combat this costly problem.
- Zuckerman, J. (2012). REAL ID Compliance: Enhancing Security, Respecting Liberty and Reducing Fraud. The Heritage Foundation. https://www.heritage.org/defense/report/real-id-compliance-enhancing-security-respecting-liberty-and-reducing-fraud [Accessed 16 January 2019].
- GAO (2012). Driver’s License Security: Federal Leadership Needed to Address Remaining Vulnerabilities.[Accessed 16 January 2019].
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (2012). Saudi Student Sentenced to Life in Prison for Attempted Use of Weapon of Mass Destruction. [Accessed 16 January 2019].
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (2013). Fresno jury convicts ex-DMV employee’s sister of conspiring to illegally issue driver’s licenses.[Accessed 16 January 2019].
Nicholas Ashton is CEO of CommSmart Global Group. He works tirelessly with the company’s research team to improve all levels of understanding for the use of improved real-time data within law enforcement globally.