If it’s time to renew your vehicle registration or driver’s license, here’s an FYI from the DMV: Imposter websites that promise to handle your paperwork could lead you down a dangerous road.
Bogus websites, sometimes purporting to be the official online service of the Department of Motor Vehicles, recently popped up in as many as nine states, all on the East Coast. Many of these sites have since vanished into cyberspace after warnings by state officials, but new ones may appear.
Officials are urging consumers to avoid the sites. They may fail to deliver what they promise or overcharge for what they do deliver. And some are seeking information that could expose customers to identity theft.
Such sites promise to process new and renewal vehicle registrations, and sometimes driver’s license applications. In essence, they act as middlemen, charging an extra fee of $25 or so for performing the same online services that motorists can do themselves, usually in a few minutes.
“They are definitely taking advantage of consumers by charging a premium price for the same service provided by our own website,” says DMV Commissioner Robert Ide of Vermont, one of the first states affected. Still, he says, “they usually are delivering on the services and processing the paperwork.”
But some customers in Vermont and other states say they never received their registration renewals after paying the fee. And they report that some sites were asking users for their Social Security numbers, something the real DMV doesn’t do.
Officials in several states tell Scam Alert that while they know of no case of identity theft resulting from residents using DMV imposters, consumers should be aware of the potential for problems. “If I renewed my vehicle registration this way, I would be deeply concerned, and would probably immediately cancel that credit card,” says Ide.
If you have used one of these services, contact your state DMV and state attorney general and alert your credit card issuer. Pay especially close attention to monthly credit card statements to spot unauthorized charges and run your credit report six to eight weeks after that transaction.
If you want to renew vehicle registrations online, access your official state DMV website by checking for it on your driver’s license or current vehicle registration, or through your state government’s official website. A list is also available at the Unofficial DMV Guide, a private site.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).