Personal information taken in Nevada DMV office break-in

March 11, 2005

By Ken Ritter, Associated Press

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) - Personal information from more than 8,900 people was stolen when thieves broke into a Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles office, officials said Friday.

A computer taken during the break-in contained names, ages, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, photographs and signatures of southern Nevada residents who obtained driver's licenses between Nov. 25 and March 4 at the North Las Vegas office, state DMV chief Ginny Lewis said.

"The state is extremely sorry that this has happened," Lewis said. "Those motorists whose data was on that computer need to know their personal information has been compromised."

The DMV had previously maintained that the information on the computer stolen in Monday's break-in was encrypted, making it virtually useless to thieves.

But Lewis said Friday that Digimarc Corp., the Beaverton, Ore.,-based company that provides digital driver's licenses in Nevada, told her Thursday the information was not encrypted, and was readily accessible.

Miz Nakajima, Digimarc spokeswoman, said Friday she could not comment on specifics about state DMV customers or the Nevada theft. The publicly traded company provides a service Nakajima called "digital watermarking" to motor vehicle departments in 34 states and the District of Columbia.

All 21 Nevada DMV licensing stations around the state were ordered by the end of the day Friday to remove personal information from computers to prevent a recurrence, Lewis said.

The Nevada DMV planned to send certified letters by next week informing the 8,900 drivers who obtained licenses at the Donovan Way office in North Las Vegas that their personal information was in the hands of thieves.

The licenses of each motorist will be canceled and a new license will be issued with new identification numbers, Lewis said during a news conference outside the office at the end of a remote industrial road wedged between Interstate 15 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

Paul Masto, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service office in Las Vegas, said the agency was investigating. He urged those affected to take precautions against identity theft.

"That's the juicy stuff - the dates of birth, the Social Security numbers," Masto said. "They have that information. There's nothing we can do about that."

The Nevada DMV data theft comes after personal information was stolen from a database owned by the information broker LexisNexis and from the giant data broker ChoicePoint Inc. Another data loss affected some 1.2 million federal employees with Bank of America charge cards.

North Las Vegas police were following several leads in the DMV case, department spokesman Officer Tim Bedwell said. He said the initial investigation was hampered by the lack of video surveillance.

Lewis said she was seeking federal and state funds to install cameras at DMV offices throughout Nevada.

Police said thieves smashed a vehicle through a back wall of the office and escaped before police arrived a half-hour later.

In addition to the computer, thieves took a camera, 1,700 license blanks and laminated plastic covers bearing the embossed state seal.

Authorities said the equipment could be used to manufacture licenses virtually indistinguishable from legitimate Nevada driver's licenses.

The state's top homeland security adviser said he notified federal Homeland Security officials about the break-in.

By David Kihara


March 15, 2005

Mark Saia walked into the state Department of Motor Vehicles office at 4110 Donovan Way on Monday looking for information on the possible theft of his identity. He left with only questions.

"(The burglars) have my Social Security number and my date of birth -- what can they do with it?" Saia asked. "How is the DMV going to stop something like this from happening again?"

Saia is just one of almost 9,000 individuals who could be victims of identity theft after burglars on March 7 crashed a vehicle into the North Las Vegas DMV branch near Craig Road and Interstate 15 and stole a computer with personal driver's license information as well as Social Security numbers of dates of birth.

He went to the DMV on Donovan Way on Monday to get information on his chances of being a victim. He was given a slip of paper with the DMV Fraud hotline telephone number on it and a piece of very bad news: He could be the victim of identity theft because between Nov. 25 and March 5 he was issued a commercial instruction permit to drive a tractor-trailer.

Anyone who was issued a license during that time period could be the victim of identity theft.

"I was a little concerned when I heard (reports of the burglary) announced on the radio because (the burglars) have my Social Security number," Saia said, adding that he learned of the theft from media reports.

The DMV on Wednesday will send out letters describing the incident and new driver's licenses with different numbers to the 8,738 people whose personal information was stored on the stolen computer, said Kevin Malone, spokesman for the DMV.

The DMV could not issue the certified letters and new driver's licenses sooner than Wednesday because of the immense volume of licenses, he said.

"We're doing this as quickly as we can," Malone said.

He said the DMV could not inform the potential victims by telephone because the agency does not keep individual's phone numbers.

To clear misconceptions, Malone said the reason the DMV on Friday reversed previous statements, saying that the information stored on the stolen computer could yield personal information, was because of the DMV's computer vendor, Digimarc.

Digimarc told the DMV on Thursday that personal information on the DMV's computers that was believed to have been wiped off the North Las Vegas DMV branch's computer system at the end of the day was actually "backed up" and stored in the computer.

This new information led officials to believe that the burglars have almost 9,000 identities, he said.

He could not comment on whether or not Digimarc ever provided assurances to the DMV that the personal information could remain on the computer systems at the end of the day.

Digimarc could not comment on the case because it has a nondisclosure agreement with the DMV, said Leslie Constans, spokeswoman for Digimarc.

"We are working with the DMV to understand what happened," Constans said.

The Oregon-based computer firm contracts with 32 DMVs across the country to provide digital driver's licenses computer systems, she said.

Tim Bedwell, spokesman for North Las Vegas Police, said the authorities still have not arrested any suspects in the burglary.

Much of this, however, still leaves some citizens like Saia with unanswered questions and anger toward the DMV.

"They need to try and figure out a way to make sure this doesn't happen again," Saia said.

Another individual concerned that the burglars might have have stolen his personal information during the burglary was Jeff Lamb, who also visited the Donovan Way DMV on Monday to get information relating to the crime.

Lamb saw television news reports during the weekend about the incident, and he said he just wanted to "check for safety."

The 64-year-old Lamb said he was slightly worried that personal information was left on the computers at night, but ultimately believed that little could be done if burglars drive a vehicle through a plate glass window to gain access, as they did in the DMV burglary.

After consulting with a DMV employee, he walked away feeling a little more secure: He had been issued a driver's license several years ago and was not in danger of having his identity stolen.

"I guess I'm OK," he said.

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