AARP Eye Center
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.
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.