Security: Counterfeit Identification and Indentification Fraud Raise Security Concerns

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-09-09.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Senate Committee on Finance

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT
Tuesday, September 9, 2003
                             Counterfeit Identification
                             and Identification Fraud
                             Raise Security Concerns
                             Statement of Robert J. Cramer, Managing Director
                             Office of Special Investigations

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to summarize
some of our recent investigations that demonstrate security vulnerabilities
that exist because counterfeit identification can be easily produced and
used to create fraudulent identities.

My testimony today is based in part on the recently issued restricted report
Security: Vulnerabilities Found in Driver’s License Applications
Process.1 My remarks also encompass results from security tests we have
performed over the past 3 years. These tests revealed security weaknesses
at federal buildings and other facilities, airports and our nation’s borders,
and exposed identity fraud vulnerabilities in both the Social Security
number (SSN) application process and in the administration of federal gun
control laws. (See app. I for a synopsis of the tests we have conducted
since 2000.) A number of these problems have been addressed by the
responsible agencies.

In conducting these tests, we created fictitious identities and counterfeit
identification documents, such as driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and
Social Security cards. We did this using inexpensive software and
hardware that are readily available to any purchaser.

In summary, we found that (1) government officials generally did not
recognize the documents we presented as counterfeits, (2) some
government officials failed to follow security procedures and were not alert
to the possibility of identity fraud, and (3) identity verification procedures
are inadequate. Our investigations revealed that homeland security is
vulnerable to identity fraud and, unless action is taken, individuals who
intend to cause harm can easily exploit these vulnerabilities. Additionally,
identify fraud has a range of other consequences including potential fraud
in voting, obtaining credit and federal benefits, and in many other areas.

  U.S. General Accounting Office, Security: Vulnerabilities Found in Driver’s License
Applications Process, GAO-03-989RNI (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2003).

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Government Officials      During each of our tests, we found that government officials did not
                          recognize that the documents we presented were counterfeit. For
Did Not Recognize Our     example, during our driver’s license investigation, we used counterfeit
Counterfeit Documents     driver’s licenses to obtain genuine driver’s licenses in seven states and the
                          District of Columbia. Because motor vehicle department employees did
                          not recognize as counterfeit the documents we presented, including out-of-
                          state driver’s licenses, they issued genuine licenses to our investigators.
                          During our border security investigation, in which we used counterfeit
                          driver’s licenses and birth certificates to enter the United States, border
                          inspectors never questioned the authenticity of the documents and our
                          investigators encountered no difficulty entering the country. In another
                          test, we obtained SSNs for fictitious children when investigators posed as
                          parents of newborns and submitted counterfeit birth certificates and
                          baptismal certificates. Additionally, we breached the security of airports
                          and federal office buildings because no one questioned the authenticity of
                          our counterfeit identification. Additional training of government personnel
                          in the detection of counterfeit identification documents is sorely needed.

Some Government           We also discovered that some officials failed to follow security procedures
                          and were not alert to the possibility of identity fraud. For example, we
Officials Failed to       found that some security personnel did not look at photo identification. As
Follow Security           a result, officials allowed one of our agents, who presented identification
                          containing another person’s photograph, to enter a federal building in
Procedures and Were       Atlanta. Another investigator entered a federal building and obtained a
Not Alert to the          building pass and an after hours access code from security personnel who
Possibility of Identity   did not follow procedures to verify his identity. In addition, this
                          investigator was able to obtain a second feature added to the building pass
Fraud                     that identified him as a law enforcement officer and permitted him to carry
                          a firearm. Yet another investigator presented a counterfeit building pass to
                          a security officer and obtained from the officer an access code used to
                          enter the building after working hours.

                          Additionally, even motor vehicle department employees who recognized
                          irregularities in the documents we submitted were not alert to the
                          possibility of identity fraud. For example, one employee noticed that the
                          birth date on an investigator’s counterfeit birth certificate and other
                          records did not match the birth date assigned to his SSN. Another
                          employee questioned the validity of an investigator’s birth certificate
                          because of the texture of the paper and because it did not contain a seal. In
                          each instance, however, employees who saw such irregularities returned

                          Page 2                                   GAO-03-1147T Counterfeit Documentation
                        the documents to the investigators. In at least one of the states we visited,
                        Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) employees are required to confiscate
                        documents that they suspect to be fraudulent and send a teletype alerting
                        all state driver’s license offices of the facts surrounding the questionable
                        documentation. However, this policy was not followed.

Improved Verification   Current verification procedures followed by border inspectors and
                        firearms dealers often consist of what we call a “negative” check; that is, a
Procedures Are          database is queried for information about the specific name or other
Needed                  personal identifiers submitted. This process reveals whether the database
                        contains information about the name submitted but does not verify the
                        identity of the license applicant or the authenticity of the license presented.
                        For example, we purchased firearms from licensed firearms dealers using
                        counterfeit driver’s licenses. The majority of firearms dealers we contacted
                        complied with the then-existing federal and state law governing such
                        purchases, including instant background checks required by the Brady
                        Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.2 However, the instant
                        background check only discloses whether the prospective purchaser is a
                        person whose possession of a firearm would be unlawful. Consequently, if
                        the prospective purchaser is using a fictitious identity, as our investigators
                        did, an instant background check is not effective.

                        Our border security tests, in which we used counterfeit driver’s licenses to
                        enter the United States from various Western Hemisphere countries, point
                        to the same problem. Because immigration regulations do not require U.S.
                        citizens traveling from countries in the Western Hemisphere to show
                        passports when entering the United States, persons entering the United
                        States from such countries commonly present driver’s licenses to border
                        inspectors for identification purposes. However, border inspectors
                        currently have no way of checking with the states to verify identity or to
                        determine whether a driver’s license is authentic.

Conclusion              A driver’s license is the most commonly accepted document used to
                        identify an individual. The weaknesses we found during these
                        investigations clearly show that border inspectors, motor vehicle
                        departments, and firearms dealers need to have the means to verify identity

                            18 U.S.C. § 922(t).

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                  and to determine whether out-of-state driver’s licenses presented to them
                  are authentic. Improved verification procedures could minimize
                  vulnerabilities presented when government officials do not recognize
                  counterfeit documents or are not alert to the possibility of identity fraud.
                  Also, government officials who review identification documents need
                  training and need to be more vigilant for identification fraud.

                  Mr. Chairman, this completes my prepared statement. I would be happy to
                  respond to any questions you or other members of the committee may have
                  at this time.

Contacts and      For further information regarding this testimony, please contact Robert
                  Cramer, Managing Director, or Ronald Malfi, Director, Office of Special
Acknowledgement   Investigations at (202) 512-6722. Individuals making key contributions to
                  this testimony include Dan Bertoni, John Cooney, Jennifer Costello,
                  Barbara Lewis, and George Ogilvie.

                  Page 4                                   GAO-03-1147T Counterfeit Documentation
Appendix I

Summary of Recent Reports and Testimony                                                                                  Append

Security:               From July 2002 through May 2003, Office of Special Investigations (OSI)
                        investigators visited state driver’s licensing agencies (hereinafter referred
Vulnerabilities Found   to as DMVs) in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, South Carolina,
in Driver’s License     Arizona, California, Michigan, and New York. Because the focus of this test
                        was to determine whether DMVs would issue driver’s licenses based on
Applications Process    counterfeit documents, we obtained valid undercover Social Security
                        Numbers (SSN) from the Social Security Administration (SSA) that would
                        be verified by SSA if queried by DMV employees.1 We were successful in
                        obtaining authentic but fraudulent driver’s licenses using fictitious names
                        supported by counterfeit documents, including counterfeit out-of-state
                        driver’s licenses. We used the same fictitious names, birth dates, and SSN’s
                        at most of the locations without detection, and we used the same
                        counterfeit driver’s licenses in all states except Maryland and Virginia.

                        During the course of this investigation, we found that DMV employees
                        generally did not recognize our counterfeit driver’s licenses. Other DMV
                        employees recognized irregularities in the documents we submitted but
                        they routinely returned the documents to us. This investigation revealed
                        that the current system in the 26 states that rely solely on visual inspection
                        of documents to detect counterfeits is vulnerable and can easily be

                          SSA provides a verification service that allows state DMVs to verify the name, SSN, and
                        date of birth of an applicant. While 26 states, including one state we visited, rely primarily
                        on visual inspection of documents submitted by driver’s license applicants to detect
                        counterfeits, 24 states and the District of Columbia now use SSA’s verification service.
                        Nevertheless, criminals can steal the identities of individuals and obtain driver’s licenses
                        using counterfeit documents containing those individual SSNs. In addition, our
                        investigative work has demonstrated that criminals can create documentation for fictitious
                        individuals and apply for and receive valid SSNs, which can be used on counterfeit
                        documents to obtain a driver’s licenses.

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                        Appendix I
                        Summary of Recent Reports and Testimony

Social Security         In May 2003, we were able to prove the ease with which individuals can
                        obtain SSNs by exploiting SSA’s current processes. Working in an
Numbers: Ensuring the   undercover capacity, we used counterfeit identification documents to
Integrity of the SSN    obtain valid SSNs from SSA for two fictitious infants. By posing as parents
                        of newborns, we obtained the first SSN by applying in person at a SSA field
                        office using a counterfeit birth certificate and baptismal certificate. Using
                        similar documents, we obtained a second SSN by submitting the
                        counterfeit documents through the mail. In both cases, SSA staff accepted
                        our counterfeit documents as valid. Thus, SSA’s current policies relating to
                        issuing SSNs to children under the age of one expose the agency to fraud.3
                        SSA officials stated that they are reevaluating their policy.

                        During a hearing on July 10, 2003, we discussed our visits to DMVs in two
                        states where we obtained authentic but fraudulent driver’s licenses using
                        the names, SSNs, and dates of birth of individuals listed on SSA’s Master
                        Death file. The Master Death file is publicly available and contains SSN’s of
                        deceased individuals. The two states we visited are among several states
                        that rely on visual verification of identification documents and use SSA’s
                        batch process verification service, which allows DMVs to verify the name,
                        SSN, and date of birth of an applicant but does not check the applicant’s
                        information against SSA’s Master Death file.4 Further, our analysis of 1
                        month of transactions submitted to SSA by one of these states showed that
                        driver’s licenses and identification cards had been issued to 41 individuals
                        who used the names, SSNs, and dates of birth of persons listed as deceased
                        in SSA’s records. Our ability to obtain driver’s licenses in the two states we
                        visited and the 41 cases identified in our analysis demonstrate a significant
                        gap in SSA’s verification service to the states.

                          U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Numbers: Ensuring the Integrity of the
                        SSN, GAO-03-941T (Washington, D.C.: July 10, 2003).
                          SSA also offers an on-line process to states that includes matching the applicants’
                        information against the Master Death file.

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                        Appendix I
                        Summary of Recent Reports and Testimony

Counterfeit Documents   From September 2002 through May 2003, we used counterfeit
                        documentation, including counterfeit driver’s licenses and fictitious names,
Used to Enter the       to enter the United States from Jamaica, Barbados, Mexico, and Canada.
United States from      Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) staff never
                        questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents, and our
Certain Western         investigators encountered no difficulty entering the country using them.
Hemisphere Countries    Although BICE inspects millions of people who enter the United States and
Not Detected            detects thousands of individuals who attempt to enter illegally each year,
                        the results of our work indicate that BICE inspectors are not readily able to
                        detect counterfeit identification documents.5

Security Breaches at    In February and March of 2002, we breached the security of four federal
                        office buildings in the Atlanta area using counterfeit law enforcement
Federal Buildings in    credentials to obtain genuine building passes, which we then counterfeited.
Atlanta, Georgia        In addition, we were able to obtain building passes that indicated that we
                        were authorized to carry firearms in the buildings. As a result, several
                        investigators, including one carrying a briefcase or package, bypassed the
                        magnetometers and X-ray machines and used the counterfeit building
                        passes to enter several buildings. They were able to move freely and
                        extensively throughout these facilities during day and evening hours and
                        were not challenged by anyone. In addition, they obtained a security
                        guard’s after-hours access code when they presented the counterfeit
                        building passes.

                          U.S. General Accounting Office, Counterfeit Documents Used to Enter the United States
                        from Certain Western Hemisphere Countries Not Detected, GAO-03-713T (Washington,
                        D.C.: May 13, 2003).

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                        Appendix I
                        Summary of Recent Reports and Testimony

                        During this investigation we found that these buildings had security
                        systems in place to screen visitors and valises. These systems included the
                        use of magnetometers and X-ray machines at security checkpoints. The
                        security systems also required that employees wear building passes for
                        identification, which allowed them to bypass the magnetometers and X-ray
                        machines. However, we were able to gain access because the employee
                        responsible for issuing building passes did not follow existing procedures
                        to verify the investigator’s identity. Further, other security personnel failed
                        to identify the counterfeit building passes. The Federal Protective Service,
                        which is responsible for security at federal buildings, took action as a result
                        of the weaknesses we identified.6

Firearms Purchased      From October 2000 through February 2001, we used counterfeit driver’s
                        licenses with fictitious identifiers to purchase firearms from federal firearm
from Federal Firearms   licensees in five states—Virginia, West Virginia, Montana, New Mexico, and
Licensees Using Bogus   Arizona. The weapons purchased included (1) a 9mm stainless
                        semiautomatic pistol, (2) a .380 semiautomatic pistol, (3) a 7.62mm
Identification          Russian-manufactured rifle, (4) a .22 caliber semiautomatic rifle, (5) a 9mm
                        semiautomatic pistol, and (6) a .25 caliber semiautomatic pistol.

                        The five states in which we purchased firearms conformed to the Brady
                        Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 19937 by requiring instant background
                        checks. For the most part, the federal firearm licensees we contacted
                        adhered to then-existing federal and state laws regarding such purchases,
                        including the instant background checks. Because we used counterfeit
                        driver’s licenses and fictitious identities there was no negative information
                        in the system about the names we created.8

                          U.S. General Accounting Office, Security Breaches at Federal Buildings in Atlanta,
                        Georgia, GAO-02-668T (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 30, 2002).
                            18 U.S.C. § 922(t).
                          U.S. General Accounting Office, Firearms: Purchased from Federal Firearm Licensees
                        Using Bogus Identification, GAO-01-427 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 19, 2001).

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                        Appendix I
                        Summary of Recent Reports and Testimony

Purchase of Firearms    In January 2002, we purchased a firearm from a licensed federal firearms
                        dealer using a counterfeit federal firearms license. We established a
Using a Counterfeit     fictitious sporting goods company in Virginia by using a legitimate federal
Federal Firearms        firearms license and altering it to insert the name and address of our
                        fictitious business. We then contacted a legitimate federal firearms dealer
License                 in Texas, posing as an individual wanting to purchase a .32 caliber
                        semiautomatic pistol and have it shipped to Virginia. When the dealer
                        stated that he could only mail the pistol to another federal firearms
                        licensee, another investigator called the dealer, represented himself to be a
                        licensed federal firearms dealer, and faxed a copy of a counterfeit license.
                        The Texas dealer accepted the license and mailed the pistol. We also
                        reported on two instances in which individuals purchased firearms using
                        counterfeit or altered federal firearms licenses.9

Security: Breaches at   In April and May of 2000, OSI investigators breached security at 19 federal
                        sites and 2 commercial airports. Our investigators carried bogus badges
Federal Agencies and    and credentials, declared themselves to be armed law enforcement
Airports                officers, and gained entry while avoiding screening procedures, including
                        magnetometers and X-ray machines. At least one investigator carried a
                        valise. Sixteen of the sites contained the offices of cabinet secretaries or
                        agency heads. At 15 of these sites, investigators were able to stand
                        immediately outside the suites of the cabinet secretary or agency head. In
                        five instances, we were able to enter the cabinet secretary or agency head’s
                        suite. At the two airports we visited, investigators used tickets issued in
                        fictitious names, declared themselves to be armed law enforcement
                        officers, displayed their spurious badges and identification, and were
                        issued “law enforcement” boarding passes by airline representatives. They
                        then went to the security checkpoint and were waived around the
                        magnetometers. Their valises were not screened. These investigations
                        took place before September 11, 2001. Subsequently, federal agencies
                        changed their policies to address the weaknesses we demonstrated.10

                          U.S. General Accounting Office, Purchase of Firearms Using a Counterfeit Federal
                        Firearms License, GAO-02-383R (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 13, 2002).
                         U.S. General Accounting Office, Security: Breaches at Federal Agencies and Airports,
                        GAO/T-OSI-00-10 (Washington, D.C.: May 25, 2000).

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