Knowledge Is Power
North Carolina DMV works with idemia to educate retailers, law enforcement on fraudulent IDs
Use of fraudulent driver’s licenses used to be limited to young adults trying to get around age limits to buy alcohol. These days, that is still a major market for counterfeiters, but other bad actors, such as identity thieves and other criminals, are also eager buyers of fraudulent IDs—to the tune of $100 million annually.
As part of their effort to understand the scope of the problem, IDEMIA, provider of identification documents to more than half of U.S. states, sponsored a study in cooperation with SPACT. SPACT is a South Dakota-based research program supported by several universities and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Research there focuses on several types of fraud and counterfeiting, utilizing tools from cybersecurity, physical and materials science, engineering, and behavioral science.
In a white paper summarizing the study, IDEMIA and SPACT detailed the websites—on the surface and dark web—that provide the illicit documents, how payments are made (primarily bitcoin) and the extent to which anti-counterfeiting features of legitimate documents, such as holograms, barcodes and windows, were simulated on the fakes.
For the most part, the fraudulent IDs can pass a cursory inspection at a bar or liquor retailer, although some more sophisticated fakes are using up-to-date elements, such as the REAL ID logo and copies of the signature of the relevant state official.
Teresa Wu, vice president of innovation and client engagement at IDEMIA, points out that counterfeiters are not trying to duplicate the substrate of legitimate IDs. “This study helps us understand the facts and the whole counterfeit ecosystem,” she says. “It doesn’t serve the customer to say that a certain material is a ‘silver bullet’ to prevent fraud.”
She stresses the need for vendors to work more closely with DMVs to help them make fraudulent IDs so easy to spot that they become useless.
When the North Carolina DMV informed IDEMIA that it had seen an uptick in the number of North Carolina fraudulent IDs seized by law enforcement, DMV and other state officials worked closely with IDEMIA to understand how they could best educate all interested parties.
Scott Parker, deputy commissioner of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, notified all branches of the state’s law enforcement bodies to be on the lookout for the fraudulent IDs. He also worked with Israel Morrow, assistant director for operations at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Alcohol Law Enforcement Division (ALE). Both are concerned about primary as well as downstream effects of the fraudulent IDs.
“Students purchase these [fraudulent IDs] online for $80–$100 to get two IDs,” Parker says. “We wanted law enforcement to understand that some people would utilize these IDs for commercial uses,” such as renting cars or hotel rooms. “If some major incident happened in the nation, and North Carolina ‘driver’s licenses’ were used, we want to be able to say 100% that it was not generated from the DMV.”
ALE and the DMV have developed a short list of fraudulent-ID identifiers that they are sharing with law enforcement and retailers statewide. In addition, ALE has conducted educational outreach at several of the state’s universities highlighting alcohol-related crimes, such as DWIs, sexual assault, or causing or being the victim of a crash that ends with a fatality.
Moreover, Parker and Morrow both point out unintended consequences of dealing with the counterfeiters who are based primarily overseas.
“These young people are giving their complete, truthful information to these criminals, and now it’s out there on the dark web,” Parker says.
“One day, they’re going to go to bed with a 720 credit score, then wake up the next day and it’s going to be 72,” Morrow says. “Plus, if any job application asks if they’ve ever had any dealings or provided information to a foreign country, they will have to answer ‘yes.’”