Sunday, May 1, 2011

OIG Study: Breeder Documents Used To Create Fraudulent Birth Certificates

With the recent release of Barack Obama's "official" Certificate of Live Birth, the conservative internet is abuzz with doubts about the document's veracity. A growing chorus claim that fraud has taken place and demonstrate their evidence in videos like these.  World Net Daily hired a computer document expert to analyze the document.

Anyone even vaguely familiar with applications like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Corel Draw, will find it easy to locate the multitude of manufactured layers that make up the pdf image. It is also possible, at least in Adobe Illustrator, to open Windows-->Actions, and find a play-by-play list of rotations, resizings, and transparency actions made to various layers.  Such actions cannot be done if a document is simply scanned, not even if scanned with optical character recognition (OCR) software. 

Whether or not Obama's birth certificate is real, birth certificate fraud is becoming extremely common in the U.S.  due to a variety of factors. In 2000, at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Inspector General put together a study titled "Birth Certificate Fraud." Apparently, "breeder documents" are used to obtain genuine documents such as passports, benefits, social security cards, etc.  This makes it doubly difficult to detect fraudulent papers.  Not impossible, but certainly difficult.  

The following excerpts from the study highlight some of the key problems and recommendations. The entire report is 31 pages long, and is embedded below for those who are interested in more details.

Birth Certificates Continue to be Used as “Breeder Documents” and are Easy to Obtain
Virtually all Federal and State agencies agree that fraudulent birth certificates are used as “breeder documents” to obtain the genuine documents needed to create new identities, and that fraudulent birth certificates are easy to obtain. Factors which contribute to their use as “breeder documents” include the following:
•   currently, 6,422 different entities issue birth certificates. This large number of State, county, city, township, and other entities that issue birth certificates increases opportunities for fraud, theft, bribery, and other methods of illegally obtaining birth certificates;
•    thirteen States allow “open” access to birth records, which allows virtually anyone to purchase copies of any birth certificates on file; and
•    birth certificates can be purchased without identification from some vital records offices and issuing entities.
To further complicate the issue:
State Practices Create Opportunities for Fraud

It was the consensus of those we interviewed that a number of State practices create opportunities for fraud. Those practices include the following:

•    delayed, amended, and midwife birth registrations that are based on affidavits of personal knowledge, include no documentary evidence, and are not often marked or overlaid accordingly;

•    delays in matching death and birth records can make the identities of many deceased persons easy to assume between the time the person dies and the time the death and birth records are matched;
•    questionable physical security situations that create opportunities for fraud; and
•    limited oversight of local issuing entities by State vital records offices.
Fraudulent Birth Certificates are Hard to Detect
Differences in Paper, Security Features, Formats, and Signatures Make Fraudulent Birth Certificates Hard to Detect.
All State vital records offices issue birth certificates on security paper, but the security features vary from State-to-State. Some local offices also issue birth certificates on security paper, but in 14 of the local offices with local issuance they use different security paper than the State vital records office. (One local office we visited issues birth certificates on plain white bond paper.) The security features most often used by both State and local offices are serial numbers, watermarks, and micro- line printing. Other paper security features used include intaglio and steel-engraved borders, ultraviolet ink, security threads, substrate paper or ink, hidden voids, and latent images. A chart outlining the security features contained in the paper used by State vital records registrars is located in Appendix B.

Since at least 11 states are developing proof of eligibility requirements for presidential candidates, it would be wise for those legislators to consider the conclusions and recommendations cited within this report.
Birth Certificates Alone do not Provide Conclusive or Reliable Proof of Identity

Many agencies and organizations request that individuals provide their birth certificates to receive a benefit or service, or to support the issuance of other documents often used for identity purposes (e.g., driver’s license). However, agencies who rely on birth certificates as a means of establishing identity must understand the limitations of accepting a birth certificate as proof of age, citizenship, or identity. For example, genuine documents obtained with counterfeit birth certificates can be used to obtain genuine birth certificates. Thus, it is inherently illogical to require someone to prove their identity using potentially fraudulent identity documents spawned by false birth certificates in order to obtain a birth certificate.

In Addition, Federal and State Program Administrators Should Assess the Proofs of Identity They Will Accept
Even if their security is improved, birth certificates may still not be the best proof of identity. For this reason, program administrators may not want to use birth certificates at all, or use them only with other documents, as noted above. Agencies need to specify documents and methods of proving identity (e.g., fingerprints, testimony of relatives) they will accept in determining eligibility for services. Given what we have learned, if program administrators continue to include birth certificates in the proofs of identity they will accept, they should also reconsider what steps they will take to detect fraudulent certificates and to secure valid ones.

Federal and State agencies who use birth certificates in determining eligibility for services and benefits may wish to consider
•   reassessing the documents they will accept as proof of identity and program eligibility;
•    accepting only birth certificates issued on security paper that meets current national standards;
•   using biometrics (e.g., fingerprints, DNA, retinal scans) to assist the agencies in establishing proof of identity;
•   improving guidelines and procedures regarding the detection of fraudulent birth certificates, and make them readily accessible; and
•    providing staff with ongoing training to assist them in detecting all types of birth certificate fraud.
Birth Certificate Fraud

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