The Chinese website at the heart of a KCTV5 News Investigation into fake identifications purchased online has now been shut down after pressure from four United States Senators.
KCTV5 News obtained a letter from Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois. Supporting Kirk were Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, and Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. The letter was sent to Zhang Yesui, Chinese ambassador, urging their government to take action against companies that manufacture fake IDs, including the site ID Chief.
"The companies understand the harm in their behavior, which is why they mail the identification documents to their customers concealed in puzzles or clothing," the letter states. "To make matters worse, recent reports have indicated that the companies use this transaction to harvest sensitive personal data to sell to identity thieves."
"The senators took the right step in addressing directly the Chinese ambassador and seeking his help," said Brian Zimmer, president of the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License. "It is clear that action soon followed in China leading to an abrupt end to the menace of hundreds of thousands of counterfeit IDs flooding this country."
In 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago seized more than 1,700 counterfeit driver's licenses.
"We remain concerned that high-quality counterfeit identification documents will get into the hands of terrorists that can use them to circumvent our security infrastructure in their plot to harm our country," the senators wrote.
Trying to pass as someone you are not is an age-old con game.
The flood of high-tech fake driver's licenses making their way onto U.S. soil are so accurate and easy to obtain that federal law enforcement agencies are tracking them.
"This does not look like an amateur job," former FBI special agent in charge, Michael Tabman, said as he held fake IDs purchased over the Internet by KCTV5.
In a matter of minutes, simply by visiting a Chinese web site, buyers can shed their identity and become someone else. The danger with these knock-offs goes far beyond underage drinking to expose a possible threat to national security.
"The State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security conducts criminal investigations into passport and visa fraud," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said. "Which often reveal the use of fake identification as source or ‘breeder documents' used to secure a fraudulent U.S. passport or visa."
KCTV5 investigated this story with the help of 21-year-old news intern Jonathan Cooper. Investigative reporter, Eric Chaloux, logged him on to a website boasting novelty IDs including U.S. driver's licenses, with holograms and ultra-violet images so accurate, they would pass through any bar or police scanner.
Chaloux had Cooper enter his real name, birth date, height and weight. A picture was taken of Cooper to be used in the fake document. With neither Kansas nor Missouri driver's licenses available, Cooper selected Pennsylvania with the website claiming it is one of the best available.
A few days later, following instructions received via email, KCTV5 wired $200 to a person in Beijing and waited.
According to the director of prevention for DCCCA, Inc., an alcohol-awareness group in Lawrence, KS, the foreign-made fake IDs are a well-known commodity to area teenagers. Jen Jordan said that when DCCCA, Inc. ran an ad campaign for the high-tech knock-offs, targeting Douglas County kids, the response was huge.
"We had almost 600 hits in the first 24 hours," Jordan said. "And that's them actively clicking on an ad that they thought was going to take them to buy a fake ID."
Jordan added that teenagers are learning the hard way that, if spotted, buying IDs from Internet sites similar to the one used by KCTV5 can lead to big problems.
"Homeland Security sometimes is getting involved, because they are fake documents, fake IDs and that takes it to a whole other level," she said.
Eight days after payment, KCTV5 received a package from China. At first, it didn't appear to contain any IDs. They were tucked inside a small red box, hidden underneath a cheap purple bracelet and some padding. To retired FBI agent Tabman, that tactic is very telling.
"What that shows you right away by putting this little trinket on top, should this be opened by customs or someone else to make it look like an innocent little gift," Tabman said. "That right there will show you your criminal intent."
And the 24-year veteran's concern grew when he was able to closely examine the fake Pennsylvania license, which included its holograms and bar codes.
"Well think. If it was easy to do this, if you were able to get this driver's license, it's just as easy if not easier to get a birth certificate," Tabman said. "You take your driver's license, which is sort of the de-facto identification in the United States. You take that with your birth certificate. You go get your passport."
The fake IDs purchased by KCTV5 made it past the screening equipment used by the Lee's Summit and Kansas City police departments.
Lee's Summit Police Sgt. Chris Depue shined one of the department's brand new ultra-violet flash lights on KCTV5's fake ID.
"They'd probably take this, yeah," Depue said.
KCPD police officer Chris Praschak sees licenses all day when he pulls over drivers.
"I mean I just had a Pennsylvania driver's license yesterday," Praschak said. "I wouldn't be able to tell the difference."
Praschak then ran the fake license through his department's e-ticket machine to test the bar code.
"So it comes up as Pennsylvania license?" Chaloux asked.
"Yeah," Praschak replied. "See when I scanned it, it gets the number and a Pennsylvania license."
While KCTV5's fake ID came up as an actual driver's license, the names did not match. KCPD used the scanner to quickly check DMV records and discovered the bar code on the knock-off was linked not to Cooper, but to a different person in Pennsylvania.
The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, screeners who check IDs at U.S. airports do not have this same technology to match driver's licenses against any sort of centralized database. Instead, the TSA relies on visual examinations of documents and traveler behavior.
When KCTV5 sent Cooper to try out his fake ID at a couple of liquor stores, his nervous behavior proved more important than the actual document.
In the college town of Lawrence where liquor store clerks spend their shifts trying to spot bogus licenses, Cooper used his Pennsylvania ID to buy alcohol at one place without any issues.
But he ran into trouble at the next stop. Clerk Noah Wallace told KCTV5 he studies the ID manuals all the time and spotted a problem with the picture on Cooper's fake. He said the photo wasn't clear enough, but that Cooper's actions were what made him suspicious in the first place.
"Most of it is just the person," Wallace said. "It's just the person, how they act."
While authorities want to stop the illegal purchase of alcohol by minors, that is by no means their biggest worry. A federal Department of Homeland Security spokesman told KCTV5 that fake IDs coming from international document mills are a significant concern and a top priority. It is a criminal operation federal agents said is on the rise.
"If we can't track them by their real name that gives them an advantage over law enforcement," Tabman said.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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