Lost and stolen drivers licenses and ID theft

The in basket: Jerry Darnall of Kingston writes to say he ran into a problem when he tried to renew his driver’s license online and the new one never reached him.

He paid by credit card and was told the new license would arrive by mail in about two weeks, he said. “(It) never showed.”

The Department of Licensing said it was mailed and suggested he check with the post office.

“Lame suggestion since the post office cannot trace mail unless certified\registered, which the Department of Licensing does NOT offer, even for an extra fee,” Jerry wrote.

So he asked about canceling his drivers license number and getting a new one but was told DOL won’t do that.

“(It) seems the ‘system,’ while not actually supporting ID theft, doesn’t do anything to prevent it either,” he said. “Now for the next four years, I will need to worry about someone with a copy of my valid driver license.”

Jerry said DOL should offer, for a nominal fee, to send mailed licenses by registered\certified mail, “which would require a signature at the post office for those of us that get rural mail delivery.”

Further, he said, “there has to be a way to ‘invalidate’ a drivers license. Washington makes up the drivers license numbers from the person’s name with alphanumeric characters at the end. The system should allow for a ‘re-numbering’ of those characters and the original lost or stolen license to be invalidated.”

The out basket: Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing replies, “Many people in our state are rightfully concerned about identity theft and fraud.

“However, what we have learned is that a lost or stolen driver license by itself is not a document that is particularly valuable for someone wanting to commit ID fraud. Criminals engaged in that type of activity typically are after Social Security numbers, which are the required element to secure credit, or actual credit card numbers themselves. Lost or stolen driver licenses and ID cards are not typically used as a source document for identity theft.

“Because a lost or stolen driver license already has a photo on it that doesn’t match the person who finds or steals it, its value is very limited,” Brad said.

“Over the past 11 years, we’ve really made a lot of changes to the document itself that makes it very secure and difficult to modify. In fraud cases where a driver license is part of the fraud, we typically see either a counterfeit license being used or a license issued by us based on fraudulent documents provided by the criminal.

“A person’s driver license number isn’t random. The entire number is created using a mathematical formula. We don’t publicize the formula, but it’s not exactly a secret. If you are curious, you can find it here:  http://www.highprogrammer.com/alan/numbers/dl_us_wa.html

“We do have policies that prevent individuals from changing their drivers license number whenever they want,” he continued. “This number is the key link to a person’s driving record in our database and, by extension, other driver-related systems at the federal level.

“If drivers were allowed to change their driver license numbers at will, it could create problems for federal commercial driver safety programs and make it easier for people to move from state to state and obtain driver licenses they may not be entitled to get, due to a suspension based on their driving record here in our state.

“In those rare cases where driver license fraud involves the use of another person’s driver license number, we will work with the victim to straighten out their record and take the steps necessary to stop the fraud. This may include issuing a new driver license number.

“Your reader’s suggestion to offer an option to have documents sent via certified mail for an additional fee would have to be authorized by the state Legislature.”


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