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Making checks on a passport to confirm identity

Illustration showing a man next to a passport scanner

In this era of increased compliance, rising cases of fraud and significant penalties for those who get it wrong, carrying out robust checks on identity documents has never been more important. And no other document carries more weight in establishing a person’s identity than a passport.

Passports must conform to certain international standards and contain several security features designed to make their forgery as difficult as possible. However, this doesn’t stop people trying and over the last 2 years, passports were the fraudulent documents most commonly shared with our helpdesk team by our customers.

If your organisation wants to protect themselves against document fraud, you should make sure all on-boarding staff are trained in how to check security features and confirm the authenticity of a passport. While true expertise in this field can require years of experience, even just a basic level of training can help your team to flag concerns and recognise the need for further investigation.

There are some checks which can be done with the naked eye, for example:

Look for detailed, high quality gold blocking on the passport cover

Check for evidence of damage behind or around the photograph which may suggest that the photo has been replaced.

Ensure the person in the passport picture clearly shows the same person presenting it. Whilst photos may be up to 10 years old, some personal features never change, such as ear and face shape.

Make sure the date of birth is consistent with the person’s appearance

Check how well the pages are aligned: pages of official passports are trimmed to a standard size and should align with the spine and cover.

Make sure the passport has a number unique to the document on every page and that the numbers are printed consistently

Examine the stitching for empty holes

Look at the printing – is it consistent?

However, other security features may be harder to identify without in-depth and ongoing training or additional technology, including:

The content of the Machine-Readable Zone (MRZ) – two rows along the length of the biodata page – which contains the characters A-Z, 0-9 and the filler character <. This is an algorithm based on the holder’s data, printed with a specific font, which forgers often get wrong. In fact, up to 90% of all fake documents seen by our helpdesk team over the last 2 years failed due to incorrect content within the MRZ.

  The way the pages react to ultra violet (UV) light – security documents shouldn’t glow brightly under UV, they should have a dull reaction

Watermarks should have subtle darker and lighter areas and no reaction under UV light

Security printing techniques such as Intaglio printing – raised and rough printing which can be felt by running a finger over the paper – or laser perforations which appear on the biodata page of UK and other passports and can be seen by holding the page up to the light

Security safeguards which can only be seen under ultra-violet light in the laminate around the photograph – unexplained patches of fluorescence behind or around the photograph may indicate excess glue or paper damage


Both standard handheld magnifying glasses and ultra violet (UV) light sources are easy to obtain and can help with the detection of fraudulent documentation. However, it’s also worth considering using electronic validation software to carry out validation checks in a matter of seconds, removing the need for extensive training and giving your organisation peace of mind. Even a relatively simple automated check, such as the service we offer on TrustID Cloud offers a far greater quality of check than a visual check alone for a small cost and very little training.


Want to know more?

Why not download our whitepaper for more details on how to manually check passports?

Download the full guide here