The production of false identity documents cuts across differing crime types fuelling illegal working, modern slavery, terrorist activity, fraud and money laundering. Their use affects businesses across the UK who are trying to prevent illegal working, stop fraud and protect their assets.
But how big is the problem of false documents in the UK? In this blog, I assess the scale of the challenge, based on recent press reports and what the team at TrustID have seen over the last few months.
The scale of the problem
Due to the nature of my role, I keep an eye on the press for the latest news regarding identity document fraud and trends and I’ve read many news stories in the last 12 months concerning counterfeiting ‘factories’. All the articles concern the UK with around half of them revealing successful enforcement action in the UK, either by the National Crime Agency or Immigration Enforcement, and the rest highlighting enforcement activity outside the UK but with counterfeiting operations which target the UK to either facilitate entry of people into the country or supply documents into the UK to help illegal workers gain employment here.
All of this reinforces my experience that identity document counterfeiting is big business and the business of organised criminals. Generally, operations will involve multiple suspects as to set up a factory, the criminals need to obtain premises, set up specialist print equipment, provide introducers and maintain delivery of the documents they create. Some news reports show Class A drugs being found alongside the counterfeit factory, and one operation by the NCA and European colleagues revealed 4 connected factories in Greece involving 20 suspects where a firearm was also found.
Cash is also a consistent feature of these operations. In most of these news reports, tens of thousands of pounds or Euros in cash are regularly seized as criminal property. One recent article showed a forger having received £84,000 from the production and supply of documents with almost £15,000 cash found in his property. The large sums of money generally found suggest a huge turnover and gives some indication of the huge demand for false identity documents and the immeasurable number of them in circulation today.
Where is it happening?
Reports on European forgery factories suggest that many are found in Greece, a traditional migrant entry point into the UK. In terms of the UK, stories are of course regional, depending on the press interest, but the main reports seem to suggest enforcement activity focused in the London area, with East London featuring heavily. One South East London operation also had connections to the Midlands and a further report indicated forgery activity in Manchester. No doubt, if you were to delve into news reports going back several years, other venues in the UK would likely feature. So, it may well be fair to assume that counterfeiting factories are in most major cities in the UK.
Does it reflect what TrustID see?
Over the past 12 months, the number of fraudulent identity documents seen by the TrustID helpdesk team has continued to grow. The type of documents seen match those mentioned in the press reports, including counterfeit passports, identity cards, driving licences and residency cards. The press reports which specify nationalities, particularly French, Italian, Polish and Greek identity documents, also ring true with the TrustID team
Additionally, some articles include photos, often showing French ID cards and what are clearly document templates on computer screens. And this too rings true with the team who often see French identity cards, including that of a Nigerian lady who presented a fake French ID to try and gain work and was subsequently reported to the relevant authorities.
As the stories of fake documents continue to appear in the press, they show the serious nature of the crimes associated with their production. In the UK, these fraudulent documents affect businesses who increasingly see them as part of Right to Work checks. And there’s never been a greater need to work together across businesses, law-enforcement agencies and industry experts like TrustID to try and prevent their use and therefore limit their supply.
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