Fact Check

Online Driver's License Look-Up

Can you look up anyone's driver's license on the Internet?

Published Jun 24, 2002

Claim:
You can look up anyone's driver's license for free through the 'National Motor Vehicle Licence Organization' web site.

The above-quoted examples are not real warnings from concerned and outraged citizens; they're invitations that solicit "victims" for yet another Internet prank. In this case the joke comes courtesy of a site similar to several other hoax web sites bearing names such as "National Driver's License Records Bureau" or the "FBI Criminal Records Search," sites that purport to show users' information taken from state driver's license or law enforcement databases. The punchline is always the same: after the user is led on a merry chase, the site displays a photograph from his "official" government record, and it's a picture of a chimp, an orangutan, or some other type of monkey or ape. Yuk, yuk.

Perhaps more amusing than this old joke (I had a circus clown take my "photograph" with a prop camera when I was six years old, and that one turned out to be a picture of a monkey too!) is the amount of mail forwarded to us by alarmed readers who have received similar messages and are worried that they're genuine but are afraid to check for themselves. Simply visiting one of these sites and attempting to look up a "record" is sufficient to dispel the concern that they might be real (if for no other reason than that they don't ask for nearly enough information to uniquely identify a person), but many viewers are hesitant to try for fear that the information they enter will be collected by someone who might use it for illegitimate (or even illegal) purposes. To this dilemma we offer a handy solution: You can lie to a computer!

If you're unsure whether a site that collects personal information (and displays even more personal information in response) is legitimate, just enter some fictitious but properly-formatted input and see what happens. If it's a joke, you'll soon find out; if the results are inconclusive, you are no worse off than you were before (and you haven't revealed anything useful in trying). If the site rejects your information (even though it's properly formatted), that may be an indication the site is indeed tied into a database that can access personal information and merits further investigation. The simplest answer is usually the correct one, however — someone's having one over on you!

(Driver's license and police record information is available over the Internet from various sources such as PublicData.com, but these sites are not accessible to everyone for free, nor do they offer information from every state.)

Sources

Stransky, Tanner. "Zombie Swine Flu Hoax Story: Does Twitter Have Panic-Creating Potential?" Entertainment Weekly. 1 May 2009.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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