Database gaps make ID fraud easier, GAO says

Wide-ranging weaknesses in government agencies' ability to prevent identity fraud are made worse by flawed databases used to check identification documents, according to federal investigators.

In testimony for a hearing today before the Senate Finance Committee, the General Accounting Office's Robert J. Cramer described how auditors successfully used a variety of false IDs to enter the country, purchase handguns, acquire driver's licenses and roam federal buildings.

Local, state and federal officials generally don't recognize counterfeit documents, and 'some government officials failed to follow security procedures and were not alert to the possibility of identity fraud,' said Cramer, GAO's managing director for special investigations.

GAO investigators were able to exploit weaknesses in the database used to enforce the instant background check mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, according to the testimony.

The instant background check maintained by the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau '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 [driver's] license presented,' according to GAO. 'Consequently, if the prospective purchaser is using a fictitious identity, as our investigators did, an instant background check is not effective.'

GAO investigators also obtained authentic but fraudulent driver's licenses using the names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of persons listed on the Social Security Administration's Master Death file.

'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 [motor vehicle departments] 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,' Cramer said.

A check of one state's transactions submitted over a period of a month found the state had issued driver's licenses or ID cards to 41 people who used the names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth for people SSA listed as deceased.

The investigators also used counterfeit documents to enter the United States from four foreign countries, and Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff never questioned 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,' Cramer said.

BICE has set up a Forensic Document Laboratory that uses databases, document specialists and rapid communication methods to help border officials detect bogus documents (Click for GCN coverage). The lab responds to thousands of inquiries annually about suspect documents.

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