Renewing your driver’s license used to be kind of a pain. It almost always involved a trip to the DMV or some other government agency to fill out paperwork. These days you can renew your driver’s license online in a few minutes without ever leaving home, in many cases.
Turns out, that’s both a blessing and a curse. Here’s why…
Sketchy Driver Services Sites Are Trying to Trick You Out of Your Money
As states make it easier for their residents to renew driver’s licenses and perform other tasks online instead of in person, some unscrupulous people are trying to take advantage of those same residents. They do that by setting up websites that look like government websites, but are not, then paying for placement at the top of search engine results.
Unfortunately, more than a few people are fooled by these search engine listings and fake sites. They end up handing their money over and get little or nothing in return.
Lori Silverman, who heads up Team Clark’s Consumer Action Center, hears their stories when they call in to get free advice.
“The most recent call we received was from a gentleman who was very upset because he went to what he thought was the government site to renew his driver’s license,” she says. “He paid $25 and what it ended up being was just a download of instructions on how to renew your license. These sites look like real government sites to try to fool you into thinking they are so that you pay the money.”
How It Works and How to Avoid It
In order to see how someone might be fooled into handing money over to one of these scammy sites, I pretended it was time to renew my own Georgia driver’s license.
First, I went to a search engine to figure out where I could do that online:
Note the top two links.
The first, at a glance, looks legit. Upon closer inspection, however, it clear that it is A) an ad (someone paid for its placement there) and B) on a .org domain. Both of those things would be highly unlikely coming from a government agency, since they have no need to advertise and have their own .gov domains.
The second link is pretty clearly the correct link for the Georgia Department of Driver Services. I feel confident about this because of the domain name, which is a .gov.
I say “pretty” clearly because I can totally understand how someone who is in a rush or not as familiar with how search engines and domain names work might just assume the first link is the correct one.
So, I clicked it:
I see an American flag, an official looking logo (with an official looking drawing of a government building), a toll-free number and a button I can press to “Renew Your License Now.”
If I look really closely I also see “GEORGIADMP IS A PRIVATELY OWNED WEBSITE THAT IS NOT OWNED OR OPERATED BY ANY STATE GOVERNMENT AGENCY” at the very top of the page. But what if I’m not looking really closely?
I click the button to renew my license.
On the next page, I’m prompted to enter my name, address and credit card information. Ironically enough, they do not ask for my driver’s license number.
The kicker, though, is what’s at the bottom of the page:
If I don’t uncheck the first box, I am agreeing:
- That I am 18 or older (otherwise taking my money would probably be a crime)
- That I will be charged immediately
- That I know this site isn’t really run by the State of Georgia
- That all I am getting is a “guide” to how to renew my license
- That my license is not going to be renewed here.
If I don’t uncheck the second box, I am agreeing:
- To give them $24.98 for an “Auto Discount Program” after 30 days
- That the charge will recur EVERY MONTH until I cancel it
Needless to say, I did not give them my credit card number or click the red button to submit my request. But I can see how people (like our caller to the Consumer Action Center) do. And while none of this appears to be outright illegal, it does feel fairly predatory.
How to Make Sure You’re Visiting a Legitimate Driver Services Site
Typically, the biggest giveaway that you’re not on an official government site is that the domain name (https://dds.georgia.gov/, for example) does not end in .gov. This is true in all but a handful of cases.
I located the official sites for renewing driver’s licenses in all 50 states and found five that don’t use .gov addresses for this purpose:
- Illinois (Official site on .com domain)
- Kansas (Official site on .org domain)
- Louisiana (Official site on .org domain)
- Nevada (Official site on .com domain)
- New Jersey (Official site on .us domain)
Finally, if you want to make absolutely sure you’re visiting the right site for renewing your license, click your state from our vetted list below. You might even want to bookmark it.
|Link to Legitimate Driver’s License Services in Each State
Have questions regarding dealing with your state government, avoiding scams or anything else that affects you as a consumer? Call our Consumer Action Center at 404-892-8227. It’s free and volunteers are standing by to help Monday-Thursday 10am -7pm ET and Friday 10am-4pm ET.