Here’s the thing with modern Web browsers: they cater to our innate laziness by making the address bar dual-use. You can type a URL in, or you can type a search term. If you do that while trying to renew your driver’s license online, you may run into trouble.
The problem comes when we apply this across the board, feeding Web addresses into search engines or only visiting our favorite sites by typing “Consumerist” or “Facebook” into Google. Reader John discovered why this can be problematic when he recently tried to follow instructions and renew his driver’s license online.
“I recently received my renewal notice from the state,” he writes to Consumerist, “and in big bold letters on the outside of the envelope, it says ‘RENEW ONLINE! http://www.mva.maryland.gov.'” Neat. He typed in that address to check it out…only he somehow entered the URL as a Bing search instead or a plain old address in the address bar.
Here’s what he saw:
“The first site listed does NOT in fact renew your license on line at all,” grumbles John. “Nor does it offer you any real assistance in doing so. It bills you $16 or so to send you a “guide” that will only repeat the free instructions that were already enclosed in your notice.”
Of course, the reason why the paid site is the first one listed is that they’re paying Bing for that primo placement, even before the real DMV.
At least this page goes to some lengths to let everyone know that they are totally not the DMV. When I visited, I got this huge popup across my screen:
There’s another problem, though, which may be specific to Maryland: pay attention to whether you can renew your license online at all. While all drivers receive the same envelope with the Web address emblazoned on the outside, people over 40 in Maryland have to renew in person in order to take an eye exam.
Bypass the search engines and try just writing out whole Web addresses. Tell your less Internet-savvy friends and relatives to do the same. It’s fun, and saves you from weird situations like this one.