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A SPECIAL SECTION: Haiti, Since the January 12, 2010 Fierce Earthquake

Posted Monday, August 15, 2011

Fake IDs are going high-tech
Among of fake IDs confiscated by a liquor store in Dartmouth, Mass.
By Brian Fraga,
Standard-Times Staff Writer

DARTMOUTH The Massachusetts driver's license had the typical hologram, watermarks and barcode.

A scanning machine told the cashier at Town Liquors that the license was legitimate, so the customer was "OK to purchase" liquor.

Only one problem, though the license was fake.

"It was an absolutely amazing ID. It was very well done," said Yogi Patel, owner of Town Liquors, located less than a mile from the UMass Dartmouth campus.

For about $200, someone today can upload his or her picture and basic information into a website, and receive two fake IDs a few days later from companies in China that even encode information into the card's magnetic strip.

"To insert the data is very hard to do. ... You could even go on an airplane using these," said Patel, who showed a visitor a stack of fake IDs he has confiscated from young people looking to buy a case of beer or a bottle of hard liquor.

Fanned out on a table, Patel showed a sample of the 300 fake IDs he has collected, purporting to be licenses from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The untrained eye cannot tell they are fakes, and, often, neither can modern technology. The high-tech fake IDs are even indistinguishable from authentic licenses under ultraviolet light used by the Transportation Security Administration.

Federal authorities have intercepted fraudulent driver's licenses in international mail arriving in Chicago and Cincinnati. But countless fake IDs have still reached Web-savvy college and high school students.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week that he wants the Department of Homeland Security to block cash payments to Chinese manufacturers of high-tech fake drivers' licenses.

Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of Immigration and Custom Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in Boston, said federal authorities have seen an uptick in Web sites dedicated to selling fake IDs. Many of the fake licenses arrive from overseas during college spring break and vacation times.

Foucart said authorities have visited college campuses in New England to speak with students about the risks involved in these schemes.

"It's buyer beware. Some of these kids are getting ripped off. They've given half of their personal information, their date of births, pictures, credit card numbers. Who knows what these organizations are doing with these kids' information?" Foucart said.

Because of the fake IDs' sophistication, Foucart said it is likely that organized crime syndicates are operating these schemes.

"It's more of a problem than what it was five years ago," Foucart said.

Foucart said it costs around $5 to manufacture one fake ID, so the manufacturers are selling them at a markup over 100 percent.

There are serious national security risks. Foucart noted that someone with a fake ID can open a line of credit, and obtain other official documents such as passports. A fugitive from justice could attain a fake driver's license, with a new name and date of birth.

As federal authorities have increasingly seized fake IDs, the organized crime syndicates have adapted their smuggling approaches, Foucart said. They will label the packages as electronics, or they may route the package through the Middle East to avoid detection.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission has used some of the fake IDs from Patel's store for training purposes.

"They're really good," said Patel, who has been encountering fake IDs ever since he opened his store 11 years ago, when the usual scenario was still someone trying to buy beer with an older sibling's license.

However, Patel has spotted one tell-tale difference.

Under a magnifying glass, the small print on the back of a fake license is a bit fuzzy, while a real license's print is crisp.

"They made it perfect, but not all the way," Patel said.

There are other clues.

Patel asks questions the customers do not expect, and will sometimes have them write their signature.

Body language is another key. If the person is anxious, avoids eye contact, or seems too outgoing, Patel's suspicions are raised.

"It's a big responsibility on my shoulders. I live in this community. I'm a parent. I don't want a drunk driver hitting my kids," said Patel, who screens every customer when UMass Dartmouth is in session.

Underage college students in the past have been charged with trying to buy alcohol at the store.

When his staff confirms a fake ID, Patel said he confiscates it, and tells the would-be customer to leave. They often complain, but few return with proof that their licenses were real.

"We're not afraid to say, 'Get out of here,'" said Patel, who declines to report them to police.

"They're not criminals. I'm not looking to penalize their parents, and get them thrown out of college," he said.

In Massachusetts, someone convicted of possessing a fake ID faces a $200 fine and three months in jail.

While liquor store owners are not required to report fake IDs to law enforcement, Dartmouth Police Detective Robert Levinson said it is still a good idea.

"I think a phone call would be an appropriate thing to do, just so we can document the incident, and maybe follow up with their guardian to make sure they don't do it again," Levinson said.

"It's good (Patel) is taking the extra time to examine the authenticity of the documents. We wish more liquor store employees would take that initiative. ... But it's something we would like to follow up on.

"If they're out with a fake ID, who knows what else they've used it for," Levinson said.


Published Monday, August 15, 2011

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