February 2015

Three perspectives on the value of DMV investigators



The Office of Investigations and Internal Affairs at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration is an integral part of what we do every day. They are involved in all aspects of the MVA business because, unfortunately, our products are very desirable for people who want to commit bad acts.

We have a fairly large investigative unit—with 35 investigators—and we make sure to include them at the beginning of the process when we are working to implement new legislation and new policies. Our investigators are proactive and always try to stay one step ahead of what the criminals are trying to do. They help us make sure that we include certain protections in our policies and procedures to reduce the opportunity for fraud to occur.

Additionally, the unit has discovered instances of internal fraud, and we take that very seriously as well. We have a code of ethics, and we conduct ethics training with our new and current employees. It is critical that we uphold the public trust. People provide us with their sensitive, personal information, and it is our obligation to protect that. We take whatever action is appropriate—internally and from a criminal standpoint—when that trust is violated.

Our investigators are not sworn officers, but are former law enforcement, and they conduct their investigations and regularly update us [administrators] if internal or external fraud is being committed. Agency leadership must take these issues seriously and be personally committed to fraud detection and prevention. They also look at the big picture to see if there is a larger issue that we’re missing that is contributing to instances of fraud.

Our Investigations and Internal Affairs Division helps hold us accountable to the high standard of integrity that we want to meet. Without them, we would fail to recognize the fraud that is happening, both internally and externally, and what we can do to address it.

iStock 000005913775Medium 2Fighting Fraud in Nevada

The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, Compliance Enforcement Division (CED), is comprised of approximately 94 full-time staff. The duties of the CED fall into three primary areas:

  1. Automotive industry licensing, regulation and enforcement;
  2. Identity theft/fraud detection and enforcement; and
  3. Oversight of the state’s motor vehicle emissions program.

The CED has both commissioned and non-commissioned investigators, with the commissioned investigators focusing primarily on identity theft and automotive-related criminal conduct, while the non-commissioned investigators focus on the regulatory compliance aspect of the motor vehicle industries over which the DMV has oversight.

During my tenure within the CED, I was chief of the division. One of the most significant improvements that occurred during that time was the implementation of facial recognition technology. With the assistance of the new technology, Nevada residents—almost overnight—became significantly more secure from identity theft taking place. Nevada deployed a ‘one to one’ match at the time of driver’s license or identification card issuance and a ‘one to many’ match through a batch process at night. The amount of fraud that was discovered was significant. Most importantly, however, the DMV now has tools to not only help prevent identity theft, but to also pursue those who had committed the crime in previous transactions with the DMV.

In addition to the external fraud component now being easier to identify, facial recognition technology also contributes to a new capability of helping to identify internal fraud. Technicians who make the choice to violate the public trust and use their positions to commit criminal acts now have additional safeguards that need to be bypassed. The technology provides investigators with additional evidence to investigate and help discern the level of involvement in any criminal conduct by DMV employees.

In my current role as director of the Nevada DMV, I continue to support the role of investigators who are DMV employees. The unique understanding of both the traditional DMV business as well as the automotive industry processes is something that is not typical of investigators who are in traditional peace officer roles. Nor is that type of knowledge common in prosecutors who are responsible for making the decision to move forward in taking cases to trial. In my opinion, the specific knowledge necessary to first understand the conduct and the crime being committed, and then the ability to educate the prosecutorial body, is best served by having the investigative units located within the motor vehicle department’s structure.

iStock 000005913775Medium 3aThe Changing Nature of Fraud

When you look at what’s going on in society in terms of the movement toward electronic communications and the recent data breaches, we need to make sure that the data that the DMV has is protected because of its high value.

Who is watching to make sure DMV internal fraud isn’t taking place? We are. There’s a push to look inside, not just externally, to see what the risks and internal threats are, and how we are prepared to handle them.

Our staff is comprised of 19 sworn law enforcement officers—located throughout the state—who all carry guns and badges. The Iowa DMV is fortunate to have a team of sworn investigators within the Department of Transportation. Otherwise, we would need to rely on local or state law enforcement officers who have other priorities, which makes it more difficult to get results.

We investigate what the DOT regulates: driver’s license fraud, title and registration fraud, odometer fraud, vehicle taxes, and rebuilt or reconstructed vehicles. We also audit car dealerships and take complaints from dealers.

The Iowa DOT uses an image verification system, and our staff looks at any hits daily to decide whether an individual should be issued a license or if we will investigate further. Ten to 15 years ago, it wasn’t unusual for us to have 1,000 cases of driver’s license fraud per year. Now, that number is significantly down to about 300–400 per year.

It’s not that fraud has gone away—it’s just that it’s changed. Technology has improved, and fraud investigation has needed to adapt to these changes and keep up with the times.

Today, we need to keep up with the type of fraud that can happen online. Additionally, we now deal with vehicle sales across the country, so there’s the need to reach out to other states. Networking through AAMVA has become much more crucial because you rely on other states to help your investigation. You need to get to know folks from across the country in order to do your job.