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Document and Benefit Fraud

ICE joins forces with local officials to fight document and identity fraud

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) joined forces with the Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP) and Department of Health to fight document and benefit fraud today. In launching the "Doing the Right Thing" campaign, HSI and its local partners announced that they will work together to identify potential suspicious activity on the part of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and Demographic Registry (DR) customers and evidence of fraud or corruption among DMV or DR personnel.

In December 2009, HSI approved the Identity and Benefit Fraud Unit (IBFU) to proceed with an outreach campaign to raise awareness about corruption at DMV facilities nationwide. In Puerto Rico, the initiative extended to the DR. ICE developed a poster, brochure and short outreach video entitled "Do the Right Thing - Stop Identity and Benefit Fraud" to support the outreach and educate DMV employees and the public about the seriousness of identity and benefit schemes perpetrated at the DMV throughout the nation. The materials are intended to provide guidance to DMV and DR employees by promoting accountability and vigilance in an effort to reduce corruption and preserve the integrity of the DMV and DR process.

A principal component of the campaign is to alert DMV and DR employees, law enforcement and the public about fraud schemes perpetrated at DMV facilities. By adding education and outreach components, ICE is proactively taking steps to deter the crime from happening, encouraging people to report the crime, and developing strong partnerships to ensure that its investigations are comprehensive and more efficient.

The issuance of genuine identification documents through fraudulent means at DMV facilities directly impacts homeland security, highway safety and general society through identity theft. The driver's license has morphed from its intended use as a document that allows an individual to operate a vehicle into a document that has become a "de-facto" national identity card.

The driver's license can be used as proof of identity when completing employment eligibility forms, boarding an aircraft, opening a bank account and demonstrating residency to many forms of local, state and federal government components. There is no clearer example of the threat posed by fraudulently obtained legitimate driver's licenses than the fact that 19 hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks used 364 aliases and were able to obtain a total of 26 state-issued DMV identification documents, many through fraudulent means.

Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the problem of identity theft was primarily as a financial matter, as a significant component of fraud. However, it was the events of September 11 that triggered society's awareness of the criminal use of false identifiers and false identification documents, including driver's licenses.

"Document and identity fraud are serious crimes that pose a threat to both public safety and national security, and it is our responsibility to educate the public and those involved in the issuance of these documents of the dangers of letting them fall in the wrong hands and the consequences of conspiring to commit fraud," said Angel Meledez, acting special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. "We applaud our partners in DTOP and Department of Health for assisting us in this endeavor."

Puerto Rico Birth Certificate

Although local legislation led to the creation of a new, more secure Puerto Rico birth certificate, criminal organizations always find a way to forfeit government issued documents or obtain legitimate ones to perpetrate their crimes. As recently as January 2012, 50 individuals were charged in an indictment in Puerto Rico with conspiracy to commit identification fraud in connection with their alleged roles in a scheme to traffic the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and corresponding identity documents. The charges were the result of an extensive investigation led by HSI, in partnership with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

According to the indictment, conspirators in 15 states and Puerto Rico trafficked the identities of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens, corresponding Social Security cards, Puerto Rico birth certificates and driver's licenses to undocumented aliens and others residing in the United States. As alleged in the indictment, the customers generally obtained the identity documents to assume the identity of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens and to obtain additional identification documents, such as legitimate state driver's licenses. Some customers allegedly obtained the documents to commit financial fraud and attempted to obtain a U.S. passport.