In November 2019, the California Department of Motor Vehicles released a statement informing the press that a data breach had occurred. Federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, received unauthorized access to the Social Security numbers of 3,200 residents, according to an email from the DMV sent out to news publications, including the Los Angeles Times.1
Many of us head to the DMV out of necessity to renew a license or transfer a title, but it’s likely most of us haven’t considered the risk to our personal information these trips can create. In some cases, there is no other option but to comply when asked for certain information. However, you may want to consider asking yourself these four questions before providing personal information to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and other official agencies.
Question #1: How Can I Protect My Private Information at the DMV or Elsewhere?
Keeping your personal information secure both offline and online is imperative. When it comes to organizations like the DMV, always remain vigilant in regards to who you’ve shared your personal information with. Keeping track of who has had access to your information can make it easier to identify who may have shared or received your private information without your permission.
Question #2: What Can Happen to Me if My Private Information Is Sold to a Third Party?
If your personal information is sold to a third party, your chances of falling victim to identity theft can increase. To prevent third parties from being able to buy or access your information, you’ll want to make sure the websites you visit are secure. Look for a locked icon in your browser bar or an “https” at the beginning of the website’s address. This indicates that the webpage has employed an SSL certificate, which allows for the encryption of data across servers.
In many states, the DMV website allows users to submit forms and payments online. Before you hit submit, check for indicators of an SSL certificate (such as the locked icon or “https” in the browser bar). If those are missing, take caution. You could have mistyped the website address and landed somewhere unsafe.
Question #3: What Private Information Is Especially Important to Protect?
While most of your personal information is critical to protect, one of the most damaging to compromise can be your Social Security number. If your Social Security number falls into the wrong hands, you are more susceptible to identity theft than if less compromising data was stolen, such as an address, birth date, phone number, etc.
As you visit the DMV, you may want to consider identifying yourself using other valid forms of ID, such as your passport or a birth certificate, if your state allows it. Some states require both a valid form of identification and your Social Security card. If you must bring it to the DMV, keep it close at hand and stowed away until the information needs to be presented to an employee.
Question #4: What States, if Any, Have Taken Action to Prevent DMVs or Other Agencies From Selling Private Information?
Depending on where you reside, your DMV may or may not be taking action to protect you from having your personal information sold to third parties. Some, but not all, states have agreed to protect personal information at DMVs. Since not all the 50 states have disclosed if they share your information or not, it’s best to ask the next time you need to visit your local DMV.
Governing bodies such as the DMV must have access to our private information in order to provide the necessary services. However, you still have the power to make conscious decisions regarding the protection of your private information. Be protective of the information you must provide, and stay alert both online and in-person when sharing that information with others. If you’re ever in doubt, remember you can always ask your state’s DMV to provide more information regarding the protection of your personal information.
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