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CDL test cheaters become more creative; DMVs fight back

It's getting harder to cheat on CDL tests so fraudsters are becoming more creative.

In a 2013 case in New York City that recently closed, a total of 11 people were charged in an elaborate CDL-test fraud scheme that provided test takers with coded pencils containing answers to audio CDL tests before the applicants took the tests, according to the original complaint.

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One confidential informant (CI) told investigators that he was instructed to request the audio version of the school bus CDL written test. He also was told that the answers would be True/False and that dots on the pencil would correspond to the correct answers. With the assistance of the tricked-out pencil, the CI passed and was given a temporary learners permit to operate school buses.

At a different DMV office involving the same group, and with the assistance of security guards, an undercover applicant removed the test from the office and brought it to a nearby restaurant where a woman filled in the answers with the help of a laptop computer. The tests were returned to the applicant, who asked if the price could be lowered from the quoted $2,400. While walking back to the DMV office, one of the defendants nicknamed "Jameson" called his boss on behalf of the applicant to see if there was any room for negotiation. The answer was 'no' because he was told by the boss that another defendant nicknamed "Reds" had already set the price and it was final.

All defendants have either been convicted at trial or pled guilty.

In another case, fraudsters used tiny cameras that allowed people outside the test room to see the questions and give answers through a paging type device, according to the original complaint. In an official sentencing announcement the DOT Office of Inspector General noted: "The investigation determined that between 2001 and 2012, the Ngs [Ying Wai Phillip Ng and his wife, Pui Kuen Ng, owners of a Brooklyn, New York driving school] cheated approximately 500 customers through the written New York Department of Motor Vehicles (NYDMV) CDL examination by nefariously providing the answers to their clients. Phillip Ng used a covert camera and pager system to feed answers to his clients while they took the exam."

States are fighting back in several ways. DMVs are using confidential informants and undercover officers to infiltrate CDL cheat gangs. They're also changing some test procedures.

"It's amazing how people cheat. States have found some unbelievably creative people," says Sheila Prior, Director of Member Support, Regions III and IV at the American Association Of Motor Vehicle Administrators who worked on the group's Best Practices for the Deterrence and Detection of Fraud report released in March. She says that some states have barred cell phones and tablets from testing rooms to deter cheating.

"More states also are putting in automated testing equipment so the questions are randomized. Applicants get a different set of questions every time they take the exam.

This is to counter any potential cheating; if you get a different test every time it’s going to be harder to cheat."

Prior also notes that cheating is not restricted to the written exam. Many states have examiner testing tablets with GPS trackers. They do this for two reasons. First, they can go back at any time and audit the skills test route and make sure that the examiner followed the correct pre-established testing route." The other reason is for the safety of the examiner so authorities can track the applicant and tester in real time in case they don't return in a reasonable amount of time.

She also says that many states are electronically auditing examiners' records to see if their pass/fail numbers fall within normal ranges. "If you've got an examiner who’s passing everybody at ninety-nine percent or a really high percentage and nobody ever fails, and nobody ever gets a low score, then that’s a clue that there may be something wrong with the test that person is giving."

CDL cheating is not only a state problem. In many cases, federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and FBI become involved because of concerns that terrorist groups might employ trucks in attacks on the U.S. homeland.

"Is there a perception of an increase in fraud related to CDL testing?" Prior asks. "Maybe there are more cheaters. But perhaps we are hearing more about instances of fraud because DMV’s are becoming more proactive in the fight against fraud, and they’ve implemented tools to deter and detect cheating. When they identify fraud, they spread the word in an effort to deter others."

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