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The Challenge of REALLY Knowing Who Your Customer Is

by Mary Beth Guard

The ad says:

"Forget about using the old "dead-baby's birth-certificate" ruse to get new ID. Everyone's on to that trick. What you need is the know-how to make your own documents on a home computer, and by following the simple instructions in here, you can."

Margo Freshwater was on the lam for 32 years after escaping from a Tennessee prison where she was was serving a 99-year sentence for murder. Using the same date of birth, she invented a new persona, Tonya McCartor. As Tonya McCartor, she obtained a social security number in 1971 at age 24, just one year after her escape. She married (more than once). She had children. Presumably, she opened bank accounts. She apparently successfully concealed her real identity from the family and friends who knew her only as Tonya McCartor. In early 2002, her luck ran out.

John List massacred his wife, mother and children in 1971 before fleeing and adopting a new identity. Under the assumed name Bob Clark, he married, held jobs, and managed to escape detection for nearly two decades before a sharp-eyed neighbor recognized his picture and alerted America's Most wanted.

Sara Jane Olson lived quietly with her husband and children in a large upscale Tudor home in St. Paul, Minnesota. When the FBI arrested her and alleged her real identity was Kathleen Ann Soliah from the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army, family and friends believed it was all a terrible mistake. She had been on the run for twenty-four years.

Extreme cases? Certainly. But they demonstrate that even in instances where the individual is well-known and highly sought-after by law enforcement, it is possible to drop out and disappear, to morph into someone entirely new and fade into the fabric of society.

Through books, newsgroups, Web sites, and underground networks, individuals have access to vast resources for permanently adopting a new identity or for merely concealing who they really are when it suits their purpose to do so. In addition to "novelty" (the word the sellers of fake identification documents use to indicate they are not selling the I.D.s for illegal purposes. Right. Of course they're not.) state I.D.s, school I.D.s and driver's licenses, back-up documents (from diplomas to birth certificates) are readily available to bolster the new identity. Badges and I.D. cards can be obtained which make it appear their holder is a member of the bomb squad, a minister, a police officer, part of military intelligence, a member of the press, a doctor. Unlike the famous Army ad slogn, "Be all that you can be," the motto of those selling bogus documentation could be summed up as "Be whoever and whatever you want to be."

Verifying identification entails more than merely glancing at the I.D. handed across the desk or teller cage. It means truly scrutinizing the documents offered and having a basis for comparison in order to know what to look for in order to detect potential fraud. Thieves like I.D.s from my state, for example, because the cheap, old-fashioned lamination is easy to tamper with. Before I obtained a new copy, my old I.D. was so worn that the lamination had totally separated, yet never once was I challenged in a financial institution, at an airport, or in any other context where a legitimate suspicion might arise that a different picture had been substituted on the I.D.

There are several steps you can take immediately to address this security problem. Start with identification documents from your own state. Develop a training tool that provides a multi-point system for validating the document. Take a photocopy of various legitimate I.D.s from your state, using the copy feature that allows you to increase the size. Then, get out your pen and draw arrows and make annotations to print out specifics to look for. If possible, come up with an acronym to make remembering the various features easy. Train your employees to mentally run through the points represented by the acronym each time an I.D. is presented.

Using some typical features that might be contained on such an I.D. as an example, we came up with the acronym BRASS HEEP to help employees remember to check the following:

  • Bar code is present
  • Real state seal appears
  • Age seems reasonable
  • Signature matches
  • Spelling of name -- and all other text on the I.D. -- is error-free
  • Hologram is where it should be
  • Evidence of alteration is not present
  • Expiration date has not been reached
  • Picture matches the individual

Depending upon the unique characteristics of the I.D.s in your own state (and surrounding states, particularly if you are near a border), you can design your own list and your own corresponding acronym. Since the characteristics of state I.D.s often vary, at least in some respects, from the characteristics of driver's licenses, you may need to have two lists and two acronyms.

Having a photographic guide to correct I.D.s also helps, but having a list of characteristics to look for will lead to greater scrutiny than a simple comparison of an I.D. with a picture in a book.

Devise a quiz to test CSRs on their I.D. knowledge. Then go through the I.D. cheat sheet you've constructed. If you have any commercial customers who own establishments where liquor is served, check with them to see if they have any fake I.D.s they've seized that you could borrow. Some bars have an entire box full. They can be great teaching aids.

Learn for yourself how easy it is to obtain bogus identification documents and information on changing identity. Books and merchants are just a click away from those who seek to conceal their identities, and the I.D. counterfeiters are constantly striving to keep on top of changing technology and security features. We've gathered a set of links at the bottom of this article to start you off.

Whether you catch someone on the OFAC list attempting to avoid sanctions by hiding funds in another name, foil a potential identity thief, or find a fugitive, these are important precautions that need to be taken.

Related Links
Fake ID Man
Souvenir I.D.
Counterfeit Library - articles are available only to subscribers, but check out their message boards
Make Your Own IDs
Books on establishing a new identity, from Undercover Press
Books on how to use mail drops to conceal your identity; directories of mail drop locations worldwide - get fake Ids. Downloadable templates.
Fake ID Man
ID Kurios
Collection of links on fake identification

Related Story
(This companion article appeared in our Briefings)
Who WAS That Man?
Within two hours after the I-40 bridge collapse in Oklahoma on Memorial Day weekend, a stranger appeared, wearing fatigues and a beret, and identifying himself as an Army captain. Authorities believed him when he said he was in charge. He looked and acted the part and he knew that another Army captain, Andrew Clements, had perished in the tragedy, even before his body was recovered, and that his briefcase and laptop were in the water. Because of his air of authority, police turned the briefacase and laptop over to him later that day after they were found by a fisherman. The man went through the captain's laptop and personall effects, rented eight motel rooms for two nights and vanished without paying the bill. Thus far, none of the information he gave about his identity has checked out and the FBI, Army, and police are investigating.

What happened? The man successfully "social engineered" trusting authorities. His motive is unknown, but the techniques he used are the same types of techniques con artists utilize to trick financial institution employees out of confidential data. What can your institution do to avoid being victimized? Order the training video "Safeguarding Customer Information", to teach your employees how to detect and prevent similar exploits. It's in the Banker Store.

Copyright, 2002, BankersOnline. All rights reserved. First published on 6/6/02.

First published on 06/06/2002

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