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Fake IDs at the heart of alleged $8-million scam

By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

Thanks to modern technology, it is very easy for people to create false identification and use those documents for fraudulent purposes, says Toronto forensic accountant and investigator Dave Oswald.

“All anyone needs is a little plastic card printer and photo-altering software, to produce a very realistic ID card that passes scrutiny,” says Oswald, founder and owner of the white-collar crime investigation boutique Forensic Restitution.

As an example, he points to a recent CTV news story about an Ontario couple charged in a money-laundering investigation after police seized $8 million worth of fraudulent cheques and stolen merchandise.

The news report showed a table covered by hundreds of fake ID cards, which police allege were used to set up bank accounts and to obtain credit cards and loans.

“With those funds, they were able to get ... high-end vehicles, Mercedes, Land Rovers, BMWs and heavy equipment,” a police spokesman says in the CTV report.

“Once you learn how to do it, creating something like ID cards is really easy,” Oswald tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Yet the banks, and everyone else, constantly rely on those pieces of plastic or paper, thinking they are real.”

In the case of the Ontario couple charged with fraud, the wife worked as a fraud investigator herself, the CTV report states.

“Police claim she knew what people investigating fraud are looking for,” says Oswald, “and she allegedly knew how to play the system effectively to avoid detection.”

Bar codes on these cards are of limited value, as there are websites where people can learn how to create their own bar codes, he says.

“A bar code is not a unique identifier,” Oswald says. “If someone hands you a false ID card, chances are you will look at the picture, then flip it over and see there is a whole bunch of dots on the back, and you will be happy, so that is a big problem.”

In Toronto, he says a false ID can be purchased for approximately $150.

“There are plenty of places that will sell you false ID,” Oswald says. “If a 17-year-old can find a way to get a card produced so that he can get into the local bar, I’m pretty sure criminals can do the same, with just a bit of homework.”

If someone has used your identity to open up a bank account or to get a credit card, he says it can take an “inordinate amount of your time to clear your name.”

Online fraud is another common problem, Oswald says, noting that many people fall for phishing emails, where criminals try to obtain sensitive information such as passwords and credit card details.

“The best phishing expeditions are the ones that appear to be true,” he says, giving the example of someone being told, “your BMO card starting with the digits 4901 has recently been compromised.”

If that person looks at their BMO card, they will see it starts with 4901, Oswald says, so they may believe that this message is authentic.

“Yet the first four numbers of every BMO credit card are 4901,” he says, “so don’t fall for that scam.”

Instead of accepting an identification card, Oswald says banks and other businesses should look for alternative forms of verification, such as calling the company where the person works, and fact-checking all the documents they are given.

His firm recently found that someone who claimed to be a lawyer simply copied certificates and diplomas that a real lawyer posted on his website, then changed the name to his own.

“Since the certificate number was identical, we knew it was fraudulent,” he says, adding “false IDs can be incredibly difficult to spot.”

Oswald says another problem is that the Canadian justice system doesn’t seem to regard commercial crime as a serious matter.

“We just don’t adequately prosecute fraud in this country,” he says, “which I have never quite understood. I don't think it's taken seriously enough at all.”

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