Photo: monsieur paradis/Flickr
Overseas forgers from as far away as China are shipping fake driver’s licence and other IDs to the United States that can bypass even the newest electronic digital security systems, according to document security experts.The new IDs are “an affront to the very sovereignty and dignity of the states that issue them,” says David Huff, a senior special agent in enforcement for Virginia’s Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control, which has investigated some of the frauds.
Most troubling to authorities is the sophistication of the forgeries: Digital holograms are replicated, PVC plastic identical to that found in credit cards is used, and ink appearing only under ultraviolet light is stamped onto the cards.
Each of those manufacturing methods helps the IDs defeat security measures aimed at identifying forged documents.
The overseas forgers are bold enough to sell their wares on websites, USA TODAY research finds. Anyone with an Internet connection and $75 to $200 can order their personalised ID card online from such companies as “ID Chief.” Buyers pick the state, address, name and send in a scanned photo and signature to complete their profile.
ID Chief, whose website is based in China, responds personally to each buyer with a money-order request.
Brian Zimmer, president of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s licence, said the ease with which people can get fake documents is alarming. “If the ID buyers are terrorists, the list of protected targets they can now access is a Homeland Security nightmare,” he said.
In August of 2011, federal prosecutors uncovered a counterfeit ring of Chinese foreign nationals in Albuquerque forging New Mexico IDs for illegal Chinese immigrants. They ran advertisements in Chinese-language newspapers in New York offering false identification for $1,500.
The website “Link-i-d” is another popular source of identification registered in Panama. According to its website, the company sells ID cards that will pass security scans and have accurate holograms and ultraviolet-sensitive ink. Customers can send a money order of $100 for two cards. The website launched this year.
ID Chief in particular is a major source of concern because the IDs are cheap, easy to obtain and entirely legal — until buyers use it to lie about their age. The risks go beyond easier underage drinking.
The security risks include immigration, employment verification and, most important, aviation security, said Andrew Meehan, a policy analyst for the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s licence. He said the most concerning threat is that the U.S. government can do very little about it.
“Short of filing a complaint to the World Trade organisation, the request has to be made to the Chinese government,” he said.
According to Huff of the Virginia agency, it has always been easy for the untrained eye to be fooled by fake IDs. The difference is, Huff said, that the new generation of forged IDs is “good enough to fool the trained eye.”
For buyers from ID Chief and other companies, the easy-to-use online form does not come without risk. Buyers have reported identity theft and hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt in their names after buying from the Chinese forgers, authorities say.
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