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Posted on January 26, 2015 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

Right now, in your wallet, there’s a single card that can give an identity thief a significant amount of information about you — enough to open credit accounts or pose as you at financial institutions. It’s your driver’s license.

In most states, a driver’s license contains not just your name and address, but also birthdate and identifying characteristics like height and weight (plus a photo). The magnetic strip or barcode on the back is similar to a credit card, potentially giving anyone who swipes your license through a scanner even more information.

A Growing Issue

Licenses are often copied when someone opens a bank account or applies for a loan. But increasingly, they’re scanned in situations that make security experts uncomfortable. An investigation by ABC7 News in San Francisco found that more and more retailers, night clubs, rental car companies and other businesses are requiring a driver’s license scan or swipe for transactions. Some apartment and office buildings also scan driver’s licenses and then store that information.

Eva Velasquez, CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, told Consumer Reports that the information on driver’s licenses provides a good start for someone to steal a person’s identity. This could lead to driver’s license fraud, in which your information is used to gain access to accounts or for other criminal purposes.

“You at least need to be aware that there are some security questions here, and then you can make a decision,” Velasquez said. Considering the kind of large-scale data breaches affecting growing numbers of retailers, being aware of how your license information is used can be important for preventing driver’s license identity theft.

Speak Up to Protect Yourself

Many times, store customers are asked for their ID to purchase or return an item, and then surprised when the cashier swipes the card instead of using it for simple verification. One senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union was so annoyed at how often it happened that she put a sticker on her license’s magnetic strip to prevent unauthorized swipes and potential driver’s license identity theft. She points out that if she gets pulled over by police, the sticker is easily removable.

Although this might seem extreme, at least it gives her an opportunity to discuss how the information will be used before it’s collected and to ask if there’s a less-intrusive way to complete the transaction. Often, people doing the swiping are cashiers, tellers, bouncers or building security guards who are only following mandates from management. In order to override such a policy, it may be necessary to ask for a manager to explain your concerns.

This might seem like a hassle, but the fact is that your identity is worth the hassle. Just because license scanning and copying has become common practice doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be cause for concern. If you feel like your information is being collected unnecessarily, speak up — you could be preventing driver’s license identity theft. And remember, IdentityForce is here to help protect your identity; monitoring your information, including your driver’s license,and alerting you to any suspicious activity.

Getting started is easy – simply sign up for a free trial of our identity protection services.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ken Hawkins.