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Department of Motor Vehicles or DMV Scams


There are 228 million licensed drivers in the United States and 276 million registered vehicles, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Our need to regularly update or renew the documents that keep us on the road creates lots of work for the state-level agencies commonly known as DMVs (for department or division of motor vehicles) — some states might call it an MVA (Motor Vehicle Administration) or MVD (Motor Vehicle Division). It also offers lots of opportunities for scammers.

DMV scams are a form of phishing that takes advantage of government offices’ efforts to provide more services online, including driver’s license renewal in many states. Crooks seek to lure motorists to phony versions of government websites on the pretext of helping them with tasks such as license renewal or title transfer.

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The scam often starts with a text message purporting to be from your state’s DMV. (Some state motor-vehicle agencies do send text notifications, but only to consumers who’ve signed up for the service.) It might say you’re at risk of having your license suspended over an overdue fee, or you’re due a refund on fees you’ve already paid, or you have to enter personal information to meet the federal government’s looming Real ID requirement for air travel.

This year's spiking gas prices brought a new twist, according to the New York DMV: Scammers are sending out texts claiming drivers are in line for a $1,500 fuel rebate from the state.

These messages will include a link that takes you to what looks like an authentic government site, where you’re asked to pay a fee to fix the issue, or to update or verify personal information like your driver’s license or Social Security number, which the crooks can use to commit identity theft

Other scammers send out emails designed to look like they come from the state motor vehicle agency, complete with logos or copied content, warning that you need to update your personal information to keep your license or that you have an unpaid ticket. Even if you don’t provide any data, clicking a link in the message could infect your device with malware.

Some criminal operations skip the texts and emails and go straight to the bogus website. They register URLs that contain state names and terms like “license,” “registration” or “dmv” and rely on search engines to serve up the sites to consumers looking online for driver information.

The sites may mimic those of the real state motor vehicle agency or claim to represent companies that help drivers navigate DMV business. You’ll be asked to enter personal or financial data, or to pay a fee to supposedly expedite your request. At best, you might get a PDF with instructions on how to apply for or renew your license or registration — information you can easily obtain yourself from your state government, for free. One such operation shut down by federal authorities in 2020 has been ordered to repay more than $100 million to consumers. 

Warning Signs

  • You get a text message out of the blue that claims to be from your state DMV, even if you haven’t opted to get text notifications from the agency.

  • A supposed DMV text or email says you owe a payment or are eligible for a refund and provides a link to address the matter.

  • The message asks for personal information like your driver’s license number or date of birth. 

How to protect yourself from this scam

  • Do scrutinize any DMV text message for signs that it may not be authentic, such as misspellings or unusual grammar.

  • Do know your state motor vehicle office’s correct name. Crooks often use the generic “DMV” in scam messages, even in states with different agency names, such as Massachusetts’ Registry of Motor Vehicles or Illinois’ Department of Driver Services.

  • Do confirm that a supposed DMV email or website is genuine before responding, clicking a link or entering information. Look for a .gov suffix in the address, which every state motor vehicle agency uses except for Wyoming’s.

  • Do look for a disclaimer — sometimes hidden in small print at the bottom of a page — that a website claiming to offer driver services is not actually connected with a government agency.

  • Do pay fees with a credit card, which offers the most consumer protection. If a charge turns out to be fraudulent, you can contact your card issuer and dispute it.
  • Don’t click on links in an unsolicited text message or email, even if it claims to be from the DMV or another government agency. 

  • Don’t pay to access DMV forms or information. State governments provide them for free. 

  • Don’t provide personal information in response to a text or email. State government offices will not ask for private data in this way.

  • Don’t pay what seems like an unusually high price for a license or registration renewal. That’s a tipoff it’s a possible scam.  
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More Resources

  • USA.gov, the federal government’s information website, has a directory of the genuine state and territorial offices that provide driver’s licenses and other motor vehicle services.
  • To report a scam text to the FTC, copy the message and forward it to 7726 (SPAM).

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