Counterfeit Identification Raises Homeland Security Concerns

GAO-04-133T: Published: Oct 1, 2003. Publicly Released: Oct 1, 2003.

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Ronald D. Malfi
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GAO testified about how homeland security is vulnerable to identity fraud. Today, counterfeit identification is easily produced and used to create fraudulent identities. Tests GAO has performed over the past 3 years demonstrate that counterfeit identification documents can be used to (1) enter the United States; (2) purchase firearms; (3) gain access to government buildings and other facilities; (4) obtain genuine identification for both fictitious and stolen identities; and (5) obtain social security numbers for fictitious identities.

In conducting these tests, GAO created fictitious identities and counterfeit identification documents. Our work shows how security vulnerabilities can be exploited. From July, 2002, through May, 2003, we counterfeited state driver's licenses and birth certificates, with fictitious names and used them to enter the United States from Western Hemisphere countries. Second, counterfeit driver's licenses can be used to purchase firearms. Between October, 2000, and February, 2001, we used counterfeit driver's licenses with fictitious identifiers to purchase firearms from license dealers in five states--Virginia, West Virginia, Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona. Third, counterfeit identification can be used to gain access to federal buildings and other facilities. In March, 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. We were also able to obtain building passes that authorized us to carry firearms in the buildings. In April and May, 2000, we similarly gained access to numerous federal buildings in Washington, D.C., that contained the offices of cabinet secretaries or agency heads. Finally, we easily obtained Social Security Numbers (SSN) for fictitious names. We used counterfeit identification documents to obtain valid SSNs from the Social Security Administration (SSA) for two fictitious infants. In addition, we visited two states and obtained authentic but fraudulent driver's licenses using the names, SSNs, and dates of birth of individuals listed on SSA's publicly available Master Death file. Our work leads us to three basic conclusions: (1) government officials and others generally did not recognize that the documents we presented were counterfeit; (2) many government officials were not alert to the possibility of identity fraud and some failed to follow security procedures and (3) identity verification procedures are inadequate. The weaknesses we found during this investigation clearly show that border inspectors, motor vehicle departments, and firearms dealers need to have the means to verify the identity and authenticity of the driver's licenses that are presented to them. In addition, government officials who review identification need additional training in recognizing counterfeit documents. Further, these officials also need to be more vigilant when searching for identification fraud.

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