Computer, data stolen from DMV

September 28, 2006

Thomasi McDonald, The New Observer

The state Division of Motor Vehicles is notifying 16,000 motorists that someone broke into the agency's driver's license office in Louisburg and took a computer containing their personal information.

The computer was used to store information for driver's licenses issued over the past 18 months, between March 2005 and Sept. 10, according to the DMV. The information includes names, addresses, dates of birth, driver's license numbers, Social Security numbers and, in some cases, immigration visa information, DMV officials said.

"The vast majority are residents of Franklin County since the DMV office is in that area," said spokeswoman Marge Howell. "But anyone can use that office, even people from Raleigh."

The motorist information is not easily accessible on the computer, and there is no evidence that it has been used, Howell said. But in letters going out this week, the DMV asks motorists to report any unusual activity that indicates someone is trying to use their information for financial fraud.

Thieves have taken equipment from other DMV offices before, but this is the first time the items contained sensitive information, Howell said.

The break-in occurred nearly two weeks ago. DMV officials think many of the drivers affected don't know about it yet.

"I had about 12 to 15 calls Tuesday and only a couple today," driver's license examiner Debra Allen said late Wednesday afternoon. "Once they get the letters, it may be a bigger response."

If motorists do notice anything suspicious, the DMV urges them to contact their local police or sheriff's office and the credit bureaus.

Police and the DMV are working with the State Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Secret Service to retrieve the stolen equipment. The DMV is offering a reward for information leading to an arrest.

"Our primary concern is to get the instruments back and arrest the ones who perpetrated this act," said Louisburg police Detective Jason Abbott.

Abbott acknowledged the potential for financial fraud but said police think the thieves hoped to use the equipment to make counterfeit driver's licenses.

Howell said that it will not be easy to use high-tech equipment.

"The digital cameras are encrypted," Howell said. "That makes it harder for someone to take them and make counterfeit licenses."

Broken window

Police learned about the burglary on Sept. 10 when a cleaning crew reported the break-in. Police said that someone broke a window in front of the building in downtown Louisburg and took several computers and workstations. Allen said office workers spent the Monday after the break-in taping and boarding the broken window and cleaning up shattered glass both inside and outside the building.

The break-in does not appear to be the work of professional thieves, Abbott said.

The SBI obtained some evidence from the DMV office, but Abbott declined to say what it was.

Motorists with questions can call the DMV at (888) 495-5568 or 715-7000. Police are asking anyone with information about the break-in to call the Louisburg Police Department at 496-4175.

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