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June 22, 2015Washington, DC, United StatesDocument and Benefit Fraud

ICE-DMV partnership combating identity, document fraud

If you walk into your local Department of Motor Vehicles office (DMV) on any given day, you’ll most likely find a crowd of people waiting to get a new license or updating their vehicle registration.

What many aren’t aware of is that while they’re waiting in anticipation of their number to be called there may be document and identity fraud taking place just a few feet away.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) identified a potential vulnerability in which DMV employees exploit their positions by selling DMV-issued identification documents for financial gain. The access DMV employees have to the tools and technology needed to produce identity documents has been exploited by criminals who seek these documents to mask their identities and commit crimes ranging from narcotics trafficking, firearms distribution, and murder to even terrorist acts.

With these factors in mind, in December 2009, HQ HSI Identity and Benefit Fraud Unit (IBFU) launched a national outreach campaign to raise awareness about potential employee misconduct at DMV facilities.  HSI Special Agent Keith Fowler, a National Program Manager within the IBFU, was charged with implementing and overseeing the outreach campaign.  

“I was excited about the opportunity to expand HSI’s role in detecting, investigating and deterring the sale of state-issued identification documents through fraud by developing an outreach awareness initiative that focused on partnerships,” Fowler said. “I thought that if we could develop new and strengthen existing relationships between HSI and DMV stakeholders, it could minimize the risks these fraud schemes pose to national security and highway safety.”

According to Fowler, the IBFU strategy was to create awareness among DMV employees, law enforcement and the public of the seriousness of fraud schemes perpetrated at DMV facilities. The IBFU and the ICE Office of Public Affairs developed a poster, a brochure and two short videos titled “Do the Right Thing – Stop Document and Identity Fraud” and “HSI and DMV – A Partnership that Works” to support the outreach campaign.  The outreach materials provide guidance to DMV employees by promoting accountability and vigilance.  IBFU’s participation in regional and international DMV conferences provided additional opportunities to publicize and disseminate the outreach campaign throughout the United States and Canada via speaking engagements and exhibit booths.  Training sessions, participation in working groups and consistent stakeholder engagement were also goals of the Campaign.  

With a plan in place, the next challenge establishing effective working relationships with the various DMVs around the U.S.  The answer came in the form of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), an association that represents state and provincial members in the United States and Canada who administer and enforce motor vehicle laws.

“Our connection to AAMVA enabled us to speak directly to the DMV Administrators, resulting in their willingness to participate in the outreach campaign,” Fowler said. “Additionally, a consistent message of partnership with an emphasis on conducting joint investigations demonstrated to the DMV community HSI’s commitment to combat driver license document fraud.” 

The relationships established during the outreach campaign have enabled its continuous growth with outreach materials being sent to every state at the request of the Administrators themselves.

Dean Reynoldson, Director of the Kansas Department of Revenue (KDOR), which oversees the state’s DMV, supported HSI’s commitment and recognized the benefit of having the state’s DMV partner with the HSI.

“The nationwide partnership was a tremendous boost for us, specifically the agents in the local HSI office in Kansas City,” Reynoldson said. “For our existing state investigations to partner with HSI and leverage their expertise with our database has been critical to our success.” According to Reynoldson, prior to HSI’s partnership, criminals were more readily able to obtain fraudulent, counterfeit documents as they exploit the DMVs’ vulnerabilities.

Although fraud at DMVs has not been completely eliminated, significant progress has been made. Now there is an increased willingness for DMVs to refer document fraud to HSI, which has led to a significant increase in HSI investigations and enforcement actions. 

“As a result of this initiative, DMV’s now take a zero tolerance approach to fraud” Fowler said. “The outreach campaign established standards and continuity in HSI document fraud investigations involving state issued licenses.

This initiative ensures that HSI and other DHS components, in collaboration with DMVs and state and local law enforcement agencies, contribute resources, acting as a force multiplier in combating document and identity fraud.