Deep Fakes

Deep Fakes

Phony licenses have become big business for counterfeiters. Here’s what DMVs can do to secure licenses and owners’ true identities 

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Departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) have become stewards of identity management, administering everything from driver’s licenses and REAL IDs to vehicle registration and driver permits, with each document protected by layers of verification.

That expanded role has put more pressure on DMV agents to be more vigilant when verifying customers’ personal documents to make sure the person standing before them is who they say they are. It’s a tricky road to travel, but with the right staff, training and systems in place, DMVs can serve as the first line of defense against counterfeiters.

“There’s a whole ecosystem for protection,” says Mike McCaskill, AAMVA’s director of Identity Management. “Every player in the system must work together to curtail the creation of counterfeit IDs.”

That ecosystem consists of three phases, he adds. Phase one is properly identifying the customer standing in front of you and carefully reviewing their documents to make sure they are legitimate. Technologies like document scanners can help find discrepancies in documents such as passports and birth certificates, and AAMVA’s Fraud Detection and Remediation program trains customer service agents on what to look for when reviewing documents.

Several AAMVA programs can help verify driver’s license documents:

  • The Social Security Number Verification System allows agencies to verify social security numbers against the U.S. Social Security Administration’s records.
  • The State-to-State (S2S) Verification Service allows states to check with other participating states to determine if an applicant holds a current driver’s license or state-issued ID there.
  • The Digital Image Access and Exchange (DIAE) program enables jurisdictions to exchange images of individuals applying for a license, permit or ID card.
  • The U.S. Passport Verification Service (USPVS) allows agencies to verify U.S. passport document data, such as the passport number and owner’s date of birth, against the Department of Homeland Security’s records.

The second phase involves layering several different security features on licenses and ID cards, such as bar codes, holograms and color-shifting designs. “Each jurisdiction chooses which features to use and how those features are layered on the card. This is a meticulous process aimed at making it difficult for counterfeiters to produce identical fakes,” McCaskill says.

AAMVA’s Card Design Standard (CDS) guides jurisdictions on the design of driver’s licenses and ID cards so they not only are a reliable source of identification but also reduce the cardholder’s exposure to identity theft and fraud. Similarly, AAMVA’s Secure Card Design Principles (SCDP) provide guidelines and best practices to ensure licenses and ID cards won’t be compromised.

“While CDS provides the building blocks for the design, SCDP explains the process for how those blocks should be used,” explains McCaskill. The CDS, he adds, will be updated in early 2024 to reflect the latest design trends and security features.

Finally, parties that request identification need to be more thorough when checking the authenticity of ID cards. “While TSA agents are required to validate the card holder, the bouncer at a local nightclub may give only a cursory glance at IDs,” McCaskill says. “The whole system must work in tandem.”

Security Begins at Home

According to ID verification company Veriff, 32.2% of college students have admitted to owning a fake ID, which they ordered online. There are two types of fake IDs: counterfeits produced outside of the DMV environment, often overseas, and genuine IDs issued by the DMV using fabricated or stolen information, says Larry Benson, director, Strategic Alliances, Government with LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

The best defense against a DMV-issued counterfeit license, he adds, begins at the DMV with the hiring and vetting of new employees. Internal fraud may be more prevalent than you think. Benson says a particular agency averages one employee firing a month for selling counterfeit IDs and customers’ personal information on the black market.

“DMVs must remain diligent, vetting people coming to work for them,” Benson says.

Many fake IDs are produced using the identities of dead people, Benson says. Checking the Death Master File, derived from the Social Security Administration’s database, can alert agents that the personal documents they’re reviewing belong to someone who is now deceased.

Another challenge has historically been the limited access to ID holder records outside their own state. If criminals have crossed state lines to obtain breeder documents, such as birth certificates and non-Real ID driver’s licenses from non-S2S verification states, agents aren’t able to track the authenticity of those documents, Benson says. New resources are now available to help DMVs confirm identities and close the holes in the process, such as the S2S Verification Service and DIAE.

“Everyone is at risk because our system still has holes in it,” he says.

Introducing the Cryptographic Key

To fix those holes and stay ahead of counterfeiters, some DMVs have added new levels of security to the licenses. Since 2013, New York has embedded a cryptographic key, computer coding that appears as a squiggly line in the bar code on the license, making it more difficult to replicate, says Owen McShane, deputy commissioner, Investigations and Law Enforcement with the New York DMV. When new licenses and ID cards were introduced in March 2022, the key was also updated.

“Without the key in the bar code, it’s easier to access the owner’s personal data,” says McShane. “The key authenticates the card as a New York state-issued document. When the code is scanned, law enforcement can tell if the card is counterfeit or not.”

McShane says the odds of duplicating cards with the key is 1 in 300 million. To date, the cost of adding the key has been minimal at $50,000, which covers 24 million documents. The technology is easy to implement, and all driver’s license card companies have the capability. Since being introduced, McShane says law enforcement in his state has encountered fewer counterfeits.

Examining Counterfeits

The biggest threat with counterfeit cards is the potential for financial fraud, particularly among younger adults and college students, says Elaine Wooton, a forensic document examiner with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Forensic Lab, which provides technical assistance to states on the design of licenses and ID cards. That assistance is provided at the state’s request (often via the federal Real ID office) and includes an assessment of genuine and counterfeit versions of their current documents, guidance about document design and security features, and testing and evaluation of prototypes.

“When college students order fake IDs online, they might unwittingly send their personal information overseas, such as their true name, home address and month and date of their birth. Some cases involving stolen identities have been noted.”

Most counterfeits are created in China, then sent back to the U.S. through major carriers. “When international packages go through U.S. shipping hubs, they can be opened and examined by Customs and Border Protection,” Wooton explains. “That’s where the lab gets most of its counterfeit cards to examine.”

During the investigation process, examiners determine whether the security features are holding up or if they’ve been compromised in some way. They look closely at the artwork and details and check how many security features might have been used.

Cards are also disassembled to reveal how they were made and what materials were used. “Some states’ cards are produced with polycarbonate, which is harder for counterfeiters to purchase. Other states use Teslin, which is more commercially available and cheaper for counterfeiters to obtain. When the counterfeit Teslin cards are bent, they pop open and you can see the layers,” Wooton explains.

Issues of National Security

Counterfeit IDs have become a global multi-million dollar industry, with websites targeting underage youths and sophisticated technology to produce fakes that are hard to discern from the real thing.

“Within the last 10 years, fake IDs have increasingly crossed over into illicit activities, like global trade, financial fraud and money laundering,” says Steven Hunter, Supervisory Special Agent with HSI, whose work is focused on reducing the number of fake IDs that come into the U.S.

“Cards produced in China are sent to black market companies in the U.S. or to students who purchased them online,” Hunter says. Identity theft is particularly high among younger adults. “Roughly 60% of individuals who have acquired a fake ID later report that their identity was stolen.”

False IDs are frequently used to commit fraud against U.S. government agencies. For instance, during the pandemic, they were sometimes used by individuals to apply for benefits through the CARES Act and unemployment insurance payouts. Illegal immigrants have used phony IDs to obtain work in the U.S.

“The fake IDs are used to determine employment eligibility on the Form I-9 by employers as required by federal law,” Hunter explains.

To investigate these crimes, HSI has 35 task forces dedicated to document and benefit fraud, with members representing various government agencies, including the Department of State, Department of Labor, Social Security and the U.S. Postal Service, among others. Still, the best defense is to be vigilant close to home.

“Don’t be afraid to overtrain your DMV staff,” Hunter advises. “Give them as much education and training as they need to give them the confidence to question situations that don’t seem quite right.”

Learn more about the 2024 FDR update in this episode of AAVMAcast

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