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What can be done to tackle document fraud?

Calendar 27 April 2018

It is thought that 3 to 6% of the 10 million identity documents issued by the government in mainland France every year (passports or national identity cards) are illegitimate and have been issued based on fake documents. The UN estimates that identity fraud costs $7,600 billion at global level! Given these circumstances, there is a growing strategic need for companies and institutions to have expertise in all available means of document fraud prevention and detection.

Document fraud in figures

50% of all cases of document fraud involve the use of fake identities, 30% entail identity theft, and 20% involve substitution (whereby people ‘rent out’ their social security cards or identity cards).

In France, the police seize approximately 10,000 fake identity documents every year, although these figures tend to fluctuate up or down. At present, it is difficult to determine whether a fall in the number of documents seized indicates a genuine reduction in the number of fake papers in circulation or whether better quality fake papers are being produced, making them more difficult to detect.

The Reso-Club European fraud prevention organization estimates that losses relating to document fraud in France amount to €20 billion. €17 billion of these losses were suffered by UNEDIC, the body responsible for issuing unemployment benefit.

These figures prove that we are facing a large-scale phenomenon with repercussions for our entire ecosystem affecting business, the public and the government.

Effective solutions exist but they cost money

Nowadays, document testing experts are able to detect all existing fake documents. They draw on a sound knowledge of document security features, familiarity with forgers’ techniques, and proficiency with recognized tools (thread counters, binocular magnifiers, special lighting). Each of these experts can process 200 documents on average per year, which equates to a cost price of approximately €1,000 per test. In view of this financial impact, it is reasonable to assume that these methods can only be applied in specific circumstances, for instance when the financial stakes are high or for court proceedings.

What can be done to tackle document fraud if the level of risk does not justify such expensive checks?

Although technical solutions exist, they are rarely used. For instance, a number of simple and virtually unfalsifiable cryptographic solutions are available. A simple 2D barcode can be all it takes to certify the validity of a document and the information it contains.

This solution is capable of resolving any issues in terms of fraudulent use of address. Although several major proof-of-address ‘producers’ have announced that they plan to incorporate this technology in their bills, only one telephone operator has implemented it to date.

France is also one of the only countries not to offer an identity card repository. In most European countries, it is possible to input the number of an identity card on a dedicated website. Based on information shown on the document, the online system then specifies whether it is authentic.

In 2013, the French National Delegation for the Fight Against Fraud made plans to roll out this solution in 2014 and implement a Checkdoc online ID document validity checking system in early 2015. However, this goal is still far from being achieved.

Although the personal digital certificate is a very effective cryptographic system enabling holders to prove their identity, electronically sign documents, and encrypt data exchanges, its usefulness in terms of fighting document fraud is directly dependent on the security of the issuing process.

Until effective solutions are rolled out, there are a number of pragmatic solutions that can be employed in response to the challenges raised by document fraud:

  • Using existing security features including visual security features such as valid MRZs (the band of coded information at the bottom of national identity cards, driving licenses, passports, residence permits and other registration documents that includes check keys). Although checking the validity of MRZs does not guarantee a very high level of security, it is a step in the right direction.
  • Duplicate detection. In some cases of document fraud, the same electricity bill is used tens of times with different ’embellishments’. A network of alerts is now available that is capable of detecting these duplicates and reporting them to the authorities. This system of detection could be systematized and made available to all relevant individuals.

Consistency checking. By ensuring that all documents included in transaction files are consistent with each other, it is possible to enhance the security of transaction files.

Using consistency checks, it is now possible to speed up transaction file approval processes, optimize conversion rates, and increase companies’ productivity.

So, while MRZ detection alone enables a 70% reduction in the risk of document fraud, consistency checks of entire transaction files help to increase this percentage considerably.

Consistency checks performed by the Jouve Mobile Capture solution ensure that transaction files are compliant either in terms of individual documents included in them or as entire transaction files. All data (civil status, address) in transaction file documents are checked and compared. A similarity percentage is then calculated for the transaction file.

Although no online solution is available for checking the validity of French identity documents, bank accounts can be verified on this basis.   As a result, it is possible to check whether bank details provided by users match the appropriate identity.

Finally, further security features that are more difficult both to fake and check will soon be operational. Although potentially very useful, we will not address these systems in this article in case forgers plan for their implementation.

In conclusion, government departments and companies are faced with the growing and expensive problem of document fraud. All these stakeholders should tackle this issue and pool investments to quickly ensure reliable and consistent checks

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