South Carolina DMV selling personal information for millions of dollars

Updated: Mar. 27, 2019 at 8:35 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Every day, hundreds of South Carolina residents get in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles and give personal information to the people who work there.

But that information doesn’t always stay at the DMV.

“I can’t, I just can’t believe it," SCDMV customer Evelyn Takeall said. "I’m surprised. I’m in shock.”

Takeall is shocked because the department takes our personal information and sells it.

The DMV sells driver’s license numbers, addresses, phone numbers, crash reports, traffic tickets and current license statuses.

That information is sold to all kinds of people: Insurance companies, bulk data companies, attorneys, journalists--almost anyone.

“The Freedom of Information Act says everything a state agency holds is public information," SCDMV spokesperson Lauren Phillips said. "So it’s not a question of why or why not you do it. It’s a question of it’s the law, so you have to do it.”

Laws in South Carolina have a lot of requirements buyers need to meet so they are allowed to buy that personal information.

But the thought of things like a drivers license number or an address being sold to strangers has a lot of DMV customers pretty worried.

“No, no, I mean that’s my personal information," SCDMV customer Corey Alexander said. "I think if anybody needs to be giving it out, it’s me and me alone.”

“You expect people you don’t know or people you don’t trust to take your information," SCDMV customer Melissa Sheilds said. "You wouldn’t expect it to be coming from the DMV. I mean, you’re supposed to be able to trust the DMV.”

“I just came to enhance my permit," Takeall said. "Now I’m sick to my stomach.”

During the 2018 fiscal year, the DMV sold more than 15 million dollars worth of that information to bulk data companies alone.

And between June and February this year, the department has already brought in more than 9 million dollars. They don’t keep any of that money, though. It all goes to the state’s Department of Transportation which uses it mostly for bridge repairs.

Phillips said she thinks most people know about the state’s Freedom of Information Act which requires the department to give away that information if people meet certain criteria.

But most customers outside the Ladson DMV said Friday they have not heard the DMV is doing this.

“At least give me the choice," SCDMV customer Ronald Tucker said. "As soon as we walk in there, I mean, they should let us know something. Because, you know, it’s just not a good thing.”

The DMV does have one page on its website that says the department can sell your information. Phillips said it is also on the application you fill out to get an ID.

But a lot of customers don’t think they are getting enough warning.

“Mail me something," Takeall said. "You know, you have everybody’s name and address, you mail it to me.”

The DMV does annual audits of the companies that buy people’s information, but some customers like Melissa Shields are still worried it could fall into the wrong hands.

“It may be for research or whatever, but they may take it and use it for their own personal gain,” Shields said.

But Phillips said that’s not something customers should be worried about.

“We have never had a founded report of any misuse of information,” Phillips said.

Still, DMV customers said they are hoping the chance for change is not completely gone.

“If it’s being used for the right stuff, alright, just let me know about it," Alexander said. "Let me know what’s going on with my information.”

The DMV doesn’t sell all of people’s personal details.

The department legally is not allowed to sell social security numbers, photos, signatures and any medical or disability information.

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