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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – “May I see your driver’s license, please?” That question is asked many thousands of times a day at the nation’s credit unions when cashing a check, opening a new account or handling a wide range of other business. In many states, the familiar photo ID is taking on a new look. The idea is to make drivers’ licenses more secure and curb the number of phony documents circulating. States that aren’t already phasing in new licenses now face federally-mandated standards under the Real ID Act. Some state officials are grumbling about the cost for new scanning, signature, camera and computer equipment. But those states where a change is already underway see it as pretty much inevitable. They’re also urging financial institutions to become familiar with the state-of-the-art look they’ll see at teller windows and elsewhere. “There’s a new level of security that should help credit unions and other businesses feel more comfortable that the driver’s license is real,” says Frank Penela, spokesman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. New licenses are already being rolled out in some Florida counties and will be in place statewide by the end of this summer. “We were ahead of the (federal) Real ID Act,” Penela says. “We’ve created a license that is a model and nearly impossible to duplicate.” If you groan at the sight of the unflattering photo on your current license, the new document will really show your bad side. Features include a digital photograph with hidden numbers that appear under a UV light, a “ghost” photo with secret data that seems to float in the license, and a third photo you cannot see hidden in the card. The license actually offers 17 separate security features compared to less than six for the old licenses. Some of the new features are confidential and only known to and accessible by law enforcement personnel. Minnesota began issuing new licenses in mid-January. Like the new documents in Florida and many other states, there are a host of security features such as a microprinted background that creates almost a rainbow effect. Susan Lasley, assistant director of communications at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, emphasizes a feature of particular importance to credit unions and other financial institutions. Numbers on each driver’s license are randomly generated and no longer begin with the first letter of the driver’s last name. Lasley points out many people have their driver’s license number printed on their checks so a salesclerk doesn’t have to copy it. But now the number on the new license will no longer match the number on the check. In addition, in a time when identity theft is a growing problem it doesn’t make sense to give a would-be scam artist another piece of critical information. “Please take the driver’s license number off the check,” Lasley urges. In Vermont, drivers’ licenses were previously printed on special lightweight plastic photo paper sealed in a plastic pouch. Now there’s no pouch and they look like a conventional credit card with an assortment of high-tech security features. However, if a teller wants to compare a photo on the updated driver’s license to the face of the person presenting the check, there could be a problem. Vermont doesn’t require a photo on the license if the person didn’t have a photo on the old license. The good news is about 80% do. Ellen Hemond, director of support services in the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, says the state is still assessing the impact of the new federal Real ID Act. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles expects to start implementing changes in late 2006. Once a photo is taken the driver will be issued a temporary receipt good until the permanent license arrives in the mail. As photos are processed they will be put through an automated photo comparison process to make sure the person applying for the license is not already in the system. For a credit union teller that should boost the ability to believe the person pictured on the card is not the victim of ID theft. All the states urge credit unions to become familiar with new drivers’ license formats by going to the appropriate state agency’s website and clicking onto drivers license information including illustrations of the new format and features. -

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