What to do if your driver’s license is lost, stolen, or exposed in a data breach
April 26, 2021
Here's an alarming stat: Since 2017, data breaches have exposed the driver's license information of more than 150 million U.S. drivers. That’s according to the Identity Theft Resource Center.
That's bad news because your driver's license contains plenty of key information about you, including your birthdate, home address and even your height, weight, and eye color. Thieves can use some of this information to steal your identity and apply for credit cards and loans in your name.
Someone might even use your driver's license information to apply for unemployment benefits in your name.
What should you do if your driver's license information is exposed in a data breach? What if you lose your license or someone steals it? You can help protect yourself. It's all about acting quickly to mitigate the damage and monitoring and protecting your credit.
How do you know if your someone has access to your driver's license?
The biggest challenge with driver's license theft is that victims often don't realize that criminals have gained access to their personal information until the damage has been done.
This might be less of a problem if your license is stolen or lost: You know there's a problem when you can't locate your physical driver's license. But if your license information is exposed in a data breach, you might not know there's a problem until after a criminal opens a new credit card account in your name or applies for a personal loan using your information.
But there are signs you can look for. Your insurance company or local department of motor vehicles might contact you to say that your driver's license might have been exposed in a data breach. You can then be on the lookout for clues that someone is using your information.
Maybe you receive notices from your state's unemployment department even though you haven't applied for unemployment benefits. That could be a sign that someone is using your driver's license information to apply for unemployment benefits in your name.
You might receive notices from your municipal court about court dates you've missed even though you have no traffic violations or other misdemeanor or felony charges in your name.
Maybe you go to your mailbox one day to find a bill from a credit card you’re not sure you have in your wallet.
And if you notice credit card accounts or loans listed on your credit reports that you know you've never applied for? That's a sure sign that someone has stolen your identity.
Check your credit report if you think your driver’s license info has been stolen
If you suspect that someone has gained access to your driver’s license information, either through a data breach or by physically nabbing your card, you should immediately order copies of your free credit reports.
You are entitled to a free copy of each of your three credit reports, one each maintained by the national credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, each year. You can get these reports from www.AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can download them to your computer.
These reports list your personal information, any recent bankruptcy declarations or foreclosures, and your open credit card and loan accounts, including how much you owe on each of these accounts.
If you notice loans or credit accounts on your reports that you know you never opened on your own? You know someone is using your personal information to steal your identity.
What to do if someone is using your driver’s license information
It’s a shock to discover that someone is using the information from your driver’s license to steal your identity. But now is not the time to panic. Even if thieves have already opened accounts in your name, you can still take action to stop future damage.
First, notify the banks or financial institutions behind the credit card or loan accounts opened fraudulently in your name. Explain to these institutions that you did not apply for these accounts or loans and that are a victim of identity theft. The financial institutions will close these accounts. If you take action promptly, you likely will not be responsible for charges made on fraudulent credit cards you didn’t apply for, and you may not have to pay back loans that thieves took out in your name.
If you receive notices from your state’s unemployment department about benefits you’ve never applied for, contact this government agency, too. Inform the unemployment department that you never applied for benefits and that you have been the victim of identity theft. The department will then end its payout of unemployment benefits to the thief who stole your identity. Again, you won’t be responsible for paying back any of these benefits.
You should then freeze your credit with the credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. A credit freeze prevents creditors — such as banks or lenders — from accessing your credit reports. This will stop identity thieves from taking out new loans or credit cards in your name because creditors won't approve their loan or credit requests if they can't first access your credit reports.
When you freeze your credit with each bureau, it will send you a personal identification number. You can then use that PIN to unfreeze your credit if you want to apply for a loan or credit card. You can also use the PIN to freeze your credit again after you’ve applied for loans or a new credit card.
You can also place a one-year fraud alert on your credit reports if you've been the victim of identity theft. This alert tells creditors that they must take reasonable steps to verify that it is actually you who is applying for credit or loans in your name.
To do this, you only need to contact one of the three national credit bureaus. That bureau must then inform the other bureaus of your fraud alert.
Whether your driver’s license is stolen or the information on it has been exposed in a data breach, make sure to contact your local department of motor vehicles and inform them of the loss or theft. The department will be able to issue you a new driver’s license with a new driver’s license number.
It’s important, too, to contact your local police department if your license was stolen. If you suspect that a criminal has used your driver’s license information to steal your identity, you should report this crime to IdentityTheft.gov.
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