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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 

Statement of Robert J. Cramer, Managing Director Office of Special 

[Hyperlink,] GAO-03-

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.[Footnote 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.

Government Officials Did Not Recognize Our Counterfeit Documents:

During each of our tests, we found that government officials did not 
recognize that the documents we presented were counterfeit. For 
example, during our driver's license investigation, we used counterfeit 
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 Officials Failed to Follow Security Procedures and Were 
Not Alert to the Possibility of Identity Fraud:

We also discovered that some officials failed to follow security 
procedures and were not alert to the possibility of identity fraud. For 
example, we found that some security personnel did not look at photo 
identification. As a result, officials allowed one of our agents, who 
presented identification containing another person's photograph, to 
enter a federal building in Atlanta. Another investigator entered a 
federal building and obtained a building pass and an after hours access 
code from security personnel who did not follow procedures to verify 
his identity. In addition, this investigator was able to obtain a 
second feature added to the building pass 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 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 Procedures Are Needed:

Current verification procedures followed by border inspectors and 
firearms dealers often consist of what we call a "negative" check; that 
is, a database is queried for information about the specific name or 
other 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.[Footnote 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 


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 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 

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 Acknowledgement:

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

[End of section]

Appendix I: Summary of Recent Reports and Testimony:

Security: Vulnerabilities Found in Driver's License Applications 

From July 2002 through May 2003, Office of Special Investigations (OSI) 
investigators visited state driver's licensing agencies (hereinafter 
referred to as DMVs) in Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, 
South Carolina, Arizona, California, Michigan, and New York. Because 
the focus of this test was to determine whether DMVs would issue 
driver's licenses based on 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.[Footnote 3] 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 

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 exploited.[Footnote 4]

Social Security Numbers: Ensuring the Integrity of the SSN:

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 
undercover capacity, we used counterfeit identification documents to 
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.[Footnote 5] 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.[Footnote 6] 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.

Counterfeit Documents Used to Enter the United States from Certain 
Western Hemisphere Countries Not Detected:

From September 2002 through May 2003, we used counterfeit 
documentation, including counterfeit driver's licenses and fictitious 
names, to enter the United States from Jamaica, Barbados, Mexico, and 
Canada. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) staff 
never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents, and our 
investigators encountered no difficulty entering the country using 
them. Although BICE inspects millions of people who enter the United 
States and 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.[Footnote 7]

Security Breaches at Federal Buildings in Atlanta, Georgia:

In February and March of 2002, we breached the security of four federal 
office buildings in the Atlanta area using counterfeit law enforcement 
credentials to obtain genuine building passes, which we then 
counterfeited. 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.

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.[Footnote 8]

Firearms Purchased from Federal Firearms Licensees Using Bogus 

From October 2000 through February 2001, we used counterfeit driver's 
licenses with fictitious identifiers to purchase firearms from federal 
firearm licensees in five states--Virginia, West Virginia, Montana, New 
Mexico, and Arizona. The weapons purchased included (1) a 9mm stainless 
semiautomatic pistol, (2) a .380 semiautomatic pistol, (3) a 7.62mm 
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 1993[Footnote 9] 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.[Footnote 10]

Purchase of Firearms Using a Counterfeit Federal Firearms License:

In January 2002, we purchased a firearm from a licensed federal 
firearms dealer using a counterfeit federal firearms license. We 
established a fictitious sporting goods company in Virginia by using a 
legitimate federal firearms license and altering it to insert the name 
and address of our fictitious business. We then contacted a legitimate 
federal firearms dealer 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.[Footnote 11]

Security: Breaches at Federal Agencies and Airports:

In April and May of 2000, OSI investigators breached security at 19 
federal sites and 2 commercial airports. Our investigators carried 
bogus badges and credentials, declared themselves to be armed law 
enforcement 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.[Footnote 12]



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

[2] 18 U.S.C.  922(t).

[3] 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.

[4] GAO-03-989RNI. 

[5] U.S. General Accounting Office, Social Security Numbers: Ensuring 
the Integrity of the SSN, GAO-03-941T (Washington, D.C.: July 10, 

[6] SSA also offers an on-line process to states that includes matching 
the applicants' information against the Master Death file.

[7] 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). 

[8] U.S. General Accounting Office, Security Breaches at Federal 
Buildings in Atlanta, Georgia, GAO-02-668T (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 30, 

[9] 18 U.S.C.  922(t).

[10] U.S. General Accounting Office, Firearms: Purchased from Federal 
Firearm Licensees Using Bogus Identification, GAO-01-427 (Washington, 
D.C.: Mar. 19, 2001).

[11] U.S. General Accounting Office, Purchase of Firearms Using a 
Counterfeit Federal Firearms License, GAO-02-383R (Washington, D.C.: 
Mar. 13, 2002).

[12] U.S. General Accounting Office, Security: Breaches at Federal 
Agencies and Airports, GAO/T-OSI-00-10 (Washington, D.C.: May 25,