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March 11, 2013
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

How to identify fraudulent IDs

Software stores locally the configurations of more than 2,500 ID types in use in North and Central America

When I was working the street in the 1980s, false IDs weren’t all that difficult to spot. The most common ones were sold out of magazines like High Times and all had the same format, with the name of the state replaced in the heading “ANYSTATE DRIVERS LICENSE.”

The bearers chose a state far away from where they intended to use the ID, and hoped the cop they handed it to didn’t know what that state’s licenses looked like. I had a lot of fun buying a copy of High Times once a year and copying the phony ID ads out of it.

I’d carry the copies on my clipboard, and saw a lot of grins fade when I showed them the ad and asked, “Get it from these guys, did you?” One gent had five of them in his wallet, all identical except for the state.

Harder Now, But Not Impossible
Modern identification documents, and ID document counterfeiters, are far more sophisticated now.

Driver licenses and state identification cards now incorporate multiple anti-counterfeiting measures, including watermarks visible only under UV light, “ghost” images of the bearer’s photo behind other data, holographic media, and encrypted bar codes and magnetic strips.

This makes the counterfeiters’ job harder, though not impossible.

The Chinese-operated ID Chief website was taken down several months ago after producing perhaps hundreds of thousands of very, very good counterfeit drivers licenses for U.S. buyers.

In many cases, the only way to reveal an ID Chief license as fraudulent was to compare it to the record, or the absence thereof, of that state’s motor vehicle bureau.

Conventional searches for new false ID merchants now reveal mostly sites that appear to take the customers’ money and return no product (this one may or may not be one of those).

Searching what is sometimes called the “deep” or “invisible” web through an anonymizer service like Tor  shows more promise. Like any other criminal enterprise, shut one operation down, and two others will appear to take its place.

One tool to check and verify suspect identification documents is from Advanced ID Detection LLC (AIDD). AIDD produces a stand-alone ID verification system that runs on a desktop or laptop computer.

A key feature of the system is a scanner into which the user feeds the suspect identification card. The scanner reads and records the information on the card at 600 dots per inch (typical laser printer output is 300 dpi) and also reads and decodes any barcode or magnetic strip.

The data is parsed out to fields for name, address, date of birth, etc., and if desired used to populate a form of the user’s choosing.

The software stores locally the configurations of more than 2,500 ID types in use in North and Central America and optionally from around the world. Monthly updates keep the system current on changes.

When a document is recognized, the system analyzes key features like microprinting and type of ink used with visible light, UV, and IR illuminators and filters. Discrepancies pop up in a window visible to the operator, showing what features are suspect.

Microprinting is a difficult feature to counterfeit because it requires very high-precision equipment and the characteristics of the microprint are specific to each type of document.

The AIDD software analyzes the height of the microprint font and compares it with the height of microprint from known exemplars. If the font height is different, it is flagged and the document is evaluated as a counterfeit.

An optional accessory camera records a headshot of the bearer of the ID and compares the face to the one on the document. This makes it more difficult for near look-alike relatives to share ID documents.

Public Safety and Private Industry
Software features include recording and storage of the ID data for as long as desired, and instant comparison to VIP and “banned” lists. Entertainment venues such as bars and clubs can know immediately if the bearer is a valued customer or someone who has previously been shown the door.

It will also flag an ID that was recently scanned to keep people from handing off their documents and using them twice.

AIDD markets to both private industry customers that depend on being able to distinguish patrons of legal age and to law enforcement agencies that receive ID documents for criminal justice purposes.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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