Fraudulent Identification Documents

By Bellah, John L. | Law & Order, February 2001 | Go to article overview
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Fraudulent Identification Documents

Bellah, John L., Law & Order

Mention fake I.D. and the usual assumption is that it is used for underage drinking or illegal immigration. While these are serious problems, the use of fraudulent identification documents can become far more serious than what appears on the surface.

A 19 year-old bank teller fraudulently obtains a driver's license under an assumed name. This license identifies him to be of drinking age, allowing him access to nightclubs and to purchase alcohol, the original intent of obtaining this identification document. Our enterprising teller soon discovered a secondary use for his assumed identity and diverted deposits into a dummy account that he set up in the fictitious name. By the time the loss was discovered, the teller managed to steal over $120,000.

One afternoon a motorcyclist was detained for DUI. He was subsequently arrested and booked under the name listed on his driver's license. The officer became suspicious, and further investigation showed that the license was fraudulently obtained under an alias to cover up his ten previous alcohol-- related driving incidents.

Identity theft is not a new crime. However, it is rapidly gaining in popularity, as it offers huge rewards with very little risk. Fraudulent identification documents are often used in identity theft scams. Losses due to identity theft run into millions of dollars every year. Some may wrongly think that the financial institutions are the victims, and that the banks and credit card companies can absorb the losses. The truth of the matter is that financial institutions, like other businesses, exist to make a profit. Losses are eventually passed on to the consumer in the form of higher fees and interest rates.

In addition to the monetary losses to the financial institution, identity theft can also cause an untold amount of personal grief to the individual victim, such as the loss of credit, employment and, in some cases, housing.

There are many types of fake identification documents. In the old days, existing documents were altered by switching numbers or photographs. In today's high-tech world with sophisticated photocopy methods and computer equipment, almost any document can be easily altered or counterfeited. In some instances the counterfeit document may appear to be of better quality than a genuine document.

Altered documents are just that. As easy as it is to counterfeit documents today, altered documents are somewhat of a rarity. An exception to this rule is a computergenerated overlay that is sandwiched between the existing lamination.

Counterfeit documents are intended to convey that the document is an actual identification document, such as a driver's license, Social Security Card or immigration card. Counterfeit documents are widely available by mail order, from flea markets, street vendors and through the Internet. The quality of these documents can vary from the poor-quality driver's license purchased from a street vendor for $40.00, to a complete identification package containing credit cards, Social Security Card, driver's license and other supporting documentation in a completely new identity. These packages, manufactured by professional counterfeiters, can cost thousands of dollars.

Both the manufacturing and sale of counterfeit identification documents violate the laws of all states, and in some cases may become a federal offense. In some locations the mere possession of counterfeit identification documents may constitute a felony.

Facsimile documents are not purported to be actual government-issued identification documents. These documents may pass as genuine in locations not familiar with that particular format. An example would be a facsimile Rhode Island identification document. This document would not be accepted locally, however, it may successfully be displayed in another state where the people are unfamiliar with Rhode Island's format. Federal law requires that these documents state "NOT A GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT" in bold type across the document.

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