Making a fake Maryland ID is about to get harder.
The state Motor Vehicle Administration, looking to guard against identity theft and counterfeiting, has announced a $3.5 million redesign of its driver's license and identification cards, its first since 2003.
The new cards, unveiled Monday, feature a range of security measures: a polycarbonate card body, with laser engraving and changeable laser imaging to protect against forgery, and tactile text — raised print to make names and addresses difficult to alter. Each card will have an inventory control number and barcode for verification purposes.
"This card is the most secure driver's license in the United States today," state Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said. "It has numerous layered security features that are going to make the Maryland driver's license, learner's permit and ID the most difficult to tamper with, and in fact, I would predict, not for many years are we going to see anyone with the ability to falsify a Maryland driver's license."
The front of the card features a large and a small portrait of the bearer against a Maryland flag background. The State House and a third picture of the cardholder appear on the back.
Other elements include either an oriole, the state bird, or a blue crab, its famed crustacean.
The cards are to be made available beginning June 20, and all issued after July 11 will feature the new design.
As an additional security measure, the cards will no longer be distributed at MVA offices. Instead, they will be mailed to drivers from a high-security MVA facility.
More than 30 other states and the federal government use the centralized mailing process to limit access to card materials, equipment and personal data, according to the MVA.
About 40 percent of the state's current identification cards are already mailed using that process, Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer said. The U.S. Postal Service does not forward mail from the Motor Vehicle Administration, so Marylanders who want to get new identification cards must be sure to use their correct address, as required by law.
The process required to get an ID isn't changing. Customers applying for a new license, learner's permit or identification card still must bring the required documents, take any required tests, have pictures taken and pay any fees at their local MVA office.
Those customers then will be required to carry their expired identification with a receipt from the MVA until the new one comes in the mail — generally in about seven to 10 days, officials said. They will then be asked to destroy the old one.
If a customer wants to get the new card before the current one has expired, he or she may apply for a duplicate license for $20.
"We are doing all this with a much more secure product without any fee increases," Nizer said.
Maryland's last driver's license overhaul came amid heightened security concerns following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
That redesign took three years and cost $40 million. It ushered in new holograms, more color, embedded text, and vertical licenses for drivers under 21 years old.
The new cards will include the word "veteran" on the front for former service members who want it, a move that Maryland Veterans Affairs Secretary George W. Owings said will inspire pride.
"You can imagine how unhappy, especially some of my World War II veterans, are when they look at their license and see a 'W' on the restrictions identifying them as a veteran," Owings said. "Today this changes. Proudly they are able to offer up their license.
"They won't even have to wait for the officer to ask them. In fact, some of them'll probably speed just to get pulled over to show them their new license," he said jokingly.
The new identifications are compliant with all state and federal standards, officials said.
Graham Lancaster is director of sales and marketing at PatronScan, a firm that supplies identification scanners to bars, nightclubs and hotels internationally.
He said the tactile text in particular will make Maryland's IDs tough to tamper with.
"That's a fantastic element to put into any kind of ID," he said.
No technology, though, is fully immune to replication, Lancaster said. Like an Internet password, the best means of security is changing it often.
"The more frequently you can do renewals on your ID types, the more difficult it is for fraudsters to catch up and imitate," Lancaster said. "Any new technology you can put in that is a departure from what you used to have adds to the level of difficulty for fraudsters."
Andrew Meehan is policy director at Keeping IDentities Safe, a Washington nonprofit that advocates for stronger identity credentials. He called the new Maryland IDs "long overdue."
The polycarbonate card prevents old-fashioned methods of altering the cards, such as peeling off the laminate and changing pictures or birth dates, Meehan said.
It's expensive to make, and none of the fake-ID manufacturers overseas that his organization tracks have successfully duplicated one.
"They're moving from what I would've characterized as prehistoric security features to state-of-the-art," he said.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
An earlier version misstated when the new licenses will be available. The Sun regrets the error.