With the REAL ID deadline approaching in October, it is time to determine if you should replace your current government- issued ID, as well as be aware of any scams that may pop around near the time of the change.

What is a REAL ID?

Fifteen years ago, Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which set a uniform standard for how individual states issue driver’s licenses and state IDs. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, each state determined the requirements on how to prove your identity and address when applying for identity documents. Once the ID was issued, it was automatically valid in all other states. Because the 9/11 hijackers used legal, state-issued IDs in their attacks, the federal government created guidelines to standardize the credentials required to travel by air or enter federal government buildings.

After numerous delays in the 15 years since the law was enacted, U.S. residents must now decide if they need a REAL ID or to keep their current state-government issues ID.

What To Consider

It’s important to consider your circumstances and if you truly need a REAL ID. If you are planning to travel domestically by commercial airline within the United States, you will need the enhanced ID. However, if you are NOT planning to travel within the U.S. by air or enter a federal government building, then your regular state identification card or Driver’s License is still valid. If your license is valid—whether it is a REAL ID or not—you will still be able to use it as a form of identification for activities like writing a check.

Important Steps

There are some important steps in order to obtain a REAL ID in your state, as well as specific documents you must have. Be sure to check with your state’s DMV or state police website in order to find out what you must bring with you. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), “At a minimum, you must provide documentation showing:  1) Full Legal Name; 2) Date of Birth; 3) Social Security Number; 4) Two Proofs of Address of Principal Residence; and 5) Lawful Status.”

For example, to apply for the REAL ID card in California, you need to present one identity document that includes your date of birth and true full name. That could include:

  • Valid, unexpired U.S. passport or passport card
  • Original or Certified copy of U.S birth certificate (issued by a city, county or state vital statistics office). “Abbreviated” or “Abstract” certificates are NOT accepted
  • U.S. Certificate of Birth Abroad or Consular Report of Birth Abroad of U.S. Citizen
  • Unexpired foreign passport with valid U.S. Visa and approved I-94 form
  • Certified copy of birth certificate from a U.S. Territory
  • Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of U.S. Citizenship
  • Valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card
  • Valid, unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card (I-766) or valid/expired EAD Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C)
  • Valid/expired Permanent Resident Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C) or Approval Notice (I-797)
  • Unexpired foreign passport stamped “Processed for I-551”
  • Documents reflecting TPS benefit eligibility

Potential Scams

With any change in government processes, scammers will try to take advantage. Be on your guard against fraud and hoaxes with the REAL ID deadline approaching.

For example, you cannot upgrade your license or ID over the phone, you will not be required to pay a fee or fine for not having a REAL ID and you will never be asked for the information on your license.

You will not receive a fine from the police for driving with a license that is not a REAL ID as long as it is valid. Also, you cannot be turned away at a polling place if you are a registered voter.

When in doubt, simply reach out to your local agency that issues REAL IDs for more information.

Data Storage & Protection

Once you are done with the process of applying for your REAL ID, don’t forget about data storage and protection. Important papers like your W-2 form, Social Security Administration card and other documents (even your devices) should never be unattended, even in a locked vehicle. Once you get home, it is also important to lock up your documents in a safe place to keep people—even people you thought you could trust—from accessing it. This could be a locked filing cabinet or firebox.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, you can call the Identity Theft Resource Center toll free at 888.400.5530 to speak with one of our advisors or live chat with an advisor on our website. They will help you create an action plan for your case while directing you on the next steps you need to take.


For on-the-go identity assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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