SANTA ANA — In an effort to keep its lines moving, the Department of Motor Vehicles has ignored safeguards and issued fraudulent drivers’ licenses, allowing thieves to steal identities and borrow money in the name of unsuspecting victims, investigators said.
The fraudulent licenses result in hundreds of Californians falsely arrested each year and thousands more who have their credit ruined, the Orange County Register reported Sunday. More than 100,000 fraudulent drivers’ licenses were issued last year.
DMV officials concerned about the agency’s reputation for long lines have refused in the past to consider routine protections such as checking photos in the computer against applicants for duplicate licenses.
The agency’s lax policies have reportedly made the agency a magnet for criminals who can obtain a new identity merely by filling out an application and paying a $12 fee, the newspaper reported.
A driver’s license is known as a “breeder document” for identity thieves, who use it to obtain loans and empty bank accounts. Felons use the document to “clean” their records, allowing them to purchase firearms.
“The heart and soul of fraud starts with the DMV,” said Werner Raes, vice president of the International Association of Financial Crime Investigators and a fraud detective with the Anaheim Police Department.
Records show widespread abuses, including duplicate licenses issued to people of different races and genders than the original licensee, and, in one case, 18 different individuals obtaining licenses in the name of the same victim.
The agency’s fraud caseload doubled in the past year even as DMV brass fought legislative reforms and ignored the recommendations of their own investigators, according to the newspaper.
DMV Director Steve Gourley, who was appointed in January, vowed last week to adopt reforms ensuring that the 900,000 duplicate licenses issued each year are legitimate. The agency estimates it issued 140,000 fraudulent duplicate licenses in 1998-99.
Officials estimate implementing the photo retrieval program would cost the agency $3 million over the next two years.