A driver’s license is the most common form of personal identification in the United States. Not only does a legitimate license allow individuals to drive a car, but it also often is required to board a commercial airplane, open a bank account, cash checks, enter nightclubs and confirm state residency.
With all of the access a driver’s license provides, it is no surprise they are among the hottest items for criminals to steal and use fraudulently. Identity theft, which often involves stolen or fake driver’s licenses, is the fastest growing crime in the country.
Officials in the Idaho Transportation Department Division of Motor Vehicles help guard against improper use of valuable Idaho licenses through a statewide training program.
“Thirty years ago, our role was to ensure that drivers were legally entitled to drive and had the skills they need to operate a motor vehicle safely,” said Jeanne Purcell, ITD’s driver’s license unit supervisor.
“Today, our role is more complex,” she said, noting that with society’s emphasis on the license as a primary form of identification, driver licensing offices assume an even greater role in providing security and are coming under closer scrutiny. This became even more apparent after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, during which 19 terrorists obtained legal identification from other states, enabling them to blend into society and carry out their catastrophic assault.
In response to the skyrocketing national problem of fraud and identity theft, ITD’s Driver Licensing Unit has developed a comprehensive program to crack down on fake driver’s licenses and identification cards. Purcell and co-worker Barbara Meyer deliver Fraudulent Document Recognition (FDR) training to county driver license examiners in all six ITD districts. The Level One FDR training reached 146 driver’s license examiners in 2004 was so successful that an enhanced Level Two training was delivered to 137 examiners and law enforcement officers.
According to Purcell, ITD is concerned about two types of fraud: Internal fraud, which could involve a driver’s licensing employee helping a customer obtain a valid document illegitimately, and external fraud involving customers who present false documents.
Purcell has a drawer full of confiscated fake licenses and identifications, some more believable than others. Many had been purchased from Internet web sites for about $75 each. Some were made on home computers and laser printers. Still others were created by cutting out a photo and pasting it onto someone else’s license, a technique that has been used by underage teenagers for decades.
The cream of Purcell’s collection, however, is a fake license that was made from a plastic hotel room key card. It still bears the name of the hotel on the back. “Can you believe it?” she asks, shaking her head.
“In 2003, more than nine million Americans were victims of identity theft,” said Purcell. “It creates a loss of people’s personal sense of security and privacy, not to mention the financial and economical impact.”
According to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), straightening out identity theft can take a person between 175 and 200 hours and costs the nation’s financial institutions more than $8 billion a year.
The FDR program teaches driver’s license examiners and law enforcement officers how to closely evaluate documents by sight and touch and how to look for unusual behaviors from people who present fraudulent documents.
People who try to use fraudulent documents tend to show up at closing time, are overly friendly, bring several children with them to distract the examiner and often are stumped when asked their date of birth. “We teach our staff to go with their gut instincts when talking with people,” said Purcell.
FDR training also teaches how to recognize the common alteration and counterfeiting techniques, and how to identify security features that are incorporated in legitimate licenses and identification cards. Training also helps in evaluating other documents that are presented to obtain licenses, such as birth certificates. ITD’s training describes how to use other “tools of the trade,” including a black light and magnifying glass to help detect altered or counterfeit documents.
Purcell said that Idaho is one of only a few of states participating in a pilot program to create a digital image-sharing network. The network will allow access to digital photos from other states. If a license has been stolen and is being used by someone to acquire fraudulent identification, the examiner will be able to view the photo of the legitimate license holder. This program is eventually expected to expand nationwide.
In fact, ITD uses a range of technologies to simplify and speed up the identification verification process, including on-line verification of Social Security numbers, verification of national driving records through the Commercial Driver License Information System and the Problem Driver Pointer System, and verification of alien status with the Department of Homeland Security. Examiners may be able to access an online verification of birth certificates and other vital records within five years.
“The impact of fraudulent licenses on highway safety is that it lets untested car and truck drivers operate vehicles,” Purcell said.
To combat the potential of internal fraud, ITD conducts county review audits, random computer audits and has instituted limited system access control and password protection procedures. To combat external fraud, a fraud document recognition reference manual was created for examiners and distributed to each county driver’s license office.
“This training is a way we can support the driver license examiners and help them with this issue,” said Purcell.