Today’s Jeff Rossen recently reported that a Texas kindergarten teacher received the surprise of her life when she was told that she had purchased a house and cars in a state she hadn’t even visited.

When applying for a mortgage, Candida Guitierrez found out that another woman in Kansas, Benita Cardona-Gonzalez, had stolen her identity. Cardona-Gonzalez used the information she had stolen to obtain a Kansas driver’s license in Gutierrez’s name and impersonate her. Now, even though her imposter is awaiting trial, it is likely to take two years for Guitierrez to clear her credit.

Guitierrez’s experience with identity theft is not an isolated occurrence. In 2010, approximately 7 percent of American households experienced identity theft. Such fraud cost individuals about $37 million in that year alone. According to a database maintained by the Federal Trade Commission, fraud related to government benefits and documents—driver’s licenses included—is the most common form of identity theft in the country.

If Cardona-Gonzalez tried to obtain a fraudulent license in Kansas two months from now, perhaps Guitierrez’s story would have turned out differently. Kansas aims to become compliant with the REAL ID Act of 2005 by January 2013. This law encourages states to comply with voluntary guidelines that enhance ID security and promote safer ID issuing procedures.

Under REAL ID, states can use online databases, such as the Social Security Online Verification System, to confirm that those applying for licenses are who they say they are. States can also use facial recognition technology to ensure that an individual does not try to obtain multiple licenses under different names. Such tools are particularly useful in combating imposters like Cardona-Gonzalez who try to completely steal someone else’s identity.

REAL ID also promotes enhancing the physical security of driver’s licenses, such as using additional markings to make it more difficult to tamper with or counterfeit ID cards.

Besides protecting against identity theft, REAL ID can also play an important role in maintaining homeland security. In the past, terrorists have used fraudulently obtained ID cards to further their malicious goals. In fact, 18 of the 9/11 hijackers obtained a total of 30 driver’s licenses and state IDs between them, six of which were used to board planes on the morning of the attack. REAL ID would make getting such duplicative IDs impossible.

Guitierrez’s case shows that, more than seven years after Congress enacted REAL ID, driver’s licenses still remain vulnerable to fraud and abuse. Encouraging states to comply with the standards outlined in the REAL ID Act will reduce fraud and make the U.S. more secure.

Steven Ballew is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit