With the summer schedule of events still in full swing, media attention has once again turned to the issue of fake identity cards.

In the past, ticket-driven events such as music festivals have been counterfeiter hotspots for identity fraud, with successful fraudsters seeking increasingly sophisticated ways in which to circumvent the ticketing system and cash in – quite literally – on supplying fake ID.

As digital ID card printing technology becomes more advanced, and indeed more affordable, it’s also becoming increasingly attractive not only to legitimate users but also the criminal fraternity.

One of the highest-profile challenges facing the access control industry today is the threat of printers being obtained and abused by identity fraudsters.

Driven by organised criminality

The market for false identities doesn’t stop at the ticket gates, either. Driven by organised crime from terrorism, drug trafficking and immigration through to fraud and economic crime, criminals are going to ever-greater lengths to obtain the cover counterfeit identity cards provide for their illegal activities.

With full-colour plastic card printers freely available since the early 1990s, criminals have had more than enough time to perfect their repertoire of counterfeiting skills. With just a click of the mouse, anyone with access to the Internet can download detailed instructions on how to fake almost any type of ID card, and where to buy the equipment to do so themselves.

Inevitably, this has serious implications for any organisation that uses ID cards as the backbone of its physical and logical access control system.

Disturbingly, reproducing a high-quality fake PVC corporate ID card could set the determined counterfeiter back as little as £200, eventually giving them easy access to office buildings and IT systems.

Added anti-counterfeiting features

Selecting the right card, printer and issuance process is a crucial first step, but many companies are also now choosing to incorporate additional anti-counterfeit features into their ID cards.

These ‘added extras’ include sophisticated visible deterrents designed to discourage replication (such as holographic materials, ultra violet inks, 3D imaging effects and micro text that can be embedded into cards during the manufacturing process).

Covert and forensic features are invisible to the human eye and place complex obstacles in the path of potential counterfeiters. These include features like nano text. If a fraudulent card is created, verification of these missing microscopic elements can lead straight to the perpetrator of the attempted fraud.

Until recently, law enforcement agencies have been hampered in their fight against ID card fraud due to the lack of regulation of ID card printers. Two years ago, the Metropolitan Police Service moved to tighten the noose on counterfeiters through a collaborative initiative between itself and key industry players. The initiative was reported on SMT Online.

Project Genisius was set up by officers from Operation Maxim, the Met’s Organised Immigration Crime Unit, to encourage those companies selling printers, stamps and other specialist ID equipment to sign up to a voluntary Code of Conduct for the industry.

Police sources believe that these Best Practice guidelines have been very effective in raising awareness of the abuse of ID card printers by counterfeiters. In addition, they estimate that the intelligence gathered since the start of the operation has led to the disruption of 14 criminal networks, the exposure of over 40,000 false identities and the seizure during raids of hundreds of ID card printers used for criminal purposes. In truth, these figures are probably just an indication of the true extent of the problem.

Winning the fight against ID fraud

The fight against ID card fraud can only be won if simultaneously tackled from both sides of the equation: manufacturers and suppliers of ID card printers make it more difficult for criminals to obtain their equipment by engaging with Best Practice initiatives such as Project Genisius. At the same time, they need to help educate the companies that use their ID card solutions on the risks of fraud and the enhanced security features their printers include that they can use to protect themselves.