If you have a driver’s license, your state is keeping a record of your name, address, license number and other personal information that is associated with your driving record. And it also may be selling that information to third parties when they come calling.
Surprised? It’s actually more common than you might think. States that engage in this practice may sell your information to insurers, data mining companies and even potential employers. For the buyers, it’s an opportunity to learn about a mass audience for a set fee. For the states, it’s yet another revenue opportunity.
For instance, last year, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles earned $2.4 million from personal information sales, according to The Dallas Morning News. Florida far surpassed this amount in 2011, raking in $63 million for the same practice, WPLG Local 10 Miami reported.
Technically, those companies that purchase the information aren’t allowed to use it to target you with advertisements. But as Dallas Morning News columnist Dave Lieber pointed out, this can be difficult to keep track of. The state can only enforce the rules if residents complain, and most recipients of junk mail don’t think twice about how it gets to them.
However, while advertising can be annoying, the practice of selling personal information can lead to much worse outcomes.
Is Pennsylvania putting drivers at risk of identity theft?
Pennsylvania is yet another state that routinely sells personal information to third parties. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the state’s Department of Transportation earned about $41 million from this practice last year.
The problem, the news source noted, was that the state agency may not be properly monitoring the buyers and keeping an eye out for potential identity thieves. A recent audit of the department revealed that a vendor that purchased drivers’ records – Sterling Infosystems – later sold them to other companies, but could not verify that the information was properly protected from potential thieves.
“Armed with that treasure trove of data, identity thieves could easily skip joyfully to their laptops to make purchases in someone else’s name,” read the news source.
Identity theft is a growing problem, the U.S. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 17.6 million Americans were victims of this crime in 2014 – and that number is rising. Many victims may not realize how someone else got a hold of their information. The sale of data through state transportation departments could be one cause.
Did Minnesota take the first step toward solving the problem?
Minnesota used to sell drivers’ information in bulk. In 2014, the state’s Department of Public Safety decided to end the practice. Instead, it required firms to pay $5 per specific data request. The idea was that this would help the state ensure security.
“People are very concerned about data ending up in the wrong hands for the wrong reasons, and so we find that providing bulk data to companies does not allow us to adequately audit to make sure that they’re using it according to federal and state law,” Deputy Public Safety Commissioner Mary Ellison told Minnesota Public Radio.
It may have been a step forward for one state, but the fact remains that millions of drivers may still be at risk to this day.
The best thing they can do to help protect themselves from potential identity theft is to act proactively. An identity theft protection service like Identity Guard can help by monitoring your credit files, Social Security Number and public records. Our service will alert you to certain activity that could be indicative of fraud, allowing you to take action.