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On the face of it, ‘Scrub’ is working

TRENTON–

In December 2011, the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission launched Operation Facial Scrub, a fraud-prevention initiative using facial recognition technology to detect individuals who have obtained N.J. driver’s licenses using false identities.

Last week, MVC Chairman Raymond Martinez and N.J. Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa announced “a first wave” of 38 criminal prosecutions. Thus far, 669 cases have been referred to the AG.

Using the state-of-the-art technology, the MVC is conducting a full “scrub” of the 19 million photos in its database “to identify any duplicative photo records that may indicate administrative errors or customer fraud.”

To date, more than 600,000 matches have been reviewed and internal action taken when warranted, authorities said. Of those, approximately 1,800 suspension cases were identified, which required customers to re-verify their identities with the MVC.

Administrative suspensions were imposed on 146 individuals for misstatements of identification.

Information on false licenses is also shared via a secure website with 22 state and federal partners so they can pursue other cases of fraud, involving, for example, unemployment benefits, Medicaid, immigration or parole violations.

In addition to scrubbing the 19 million photos in the system, the MVC is conducting a nightly scrub of all new photos taken at its 39 agencies statewide to identify attempted fraud.

“A driver’s license is a powerful document that enables the holder to open financial accounts, obtain and drive motor vehicles, and board airplanes,” said Chiesa.

“We know the 9/11 terrorists had fraudulent licenses from other states,” he noted. “By detecting individuals who have false licenses, law enforcement can potentially uncover other types of crime that these individuals may be involved in, including identity theft, financial fraud and even terrorism.”

“Our first 38 criminal prosecutions in Operation Facial Scrub include truck and bus drivers who have no business being on our roadways and registered sex offenders who tried to hide their criminal pasts,” said Director Stephen Taylor of the Division of Criminal Justice.

According to authorities, among those indicted last week were a 58-year-old Old Bridge trucker whose real and fraudulent licenses have been suspended 64 times, including six times for DUI, and a 50-year-old Hackensack bus driver who allegedly used the name of a dead man to obtain a commercial license and who has a felony record for identity theft, fraud and forgery.

A full list of the 38 defendants charged is available at www.njpublicsafety.com.

Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while the third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years and a $15,000 fine. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the AG’s office noted.

– Karen Zautyk

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