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Alarmed by the skyrocketing number of bogus identification cards rolling off the Internet, a Senate lawmaker is eyeing legislation to shutter the fast-growing e-commerce industry. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said May 19 she expects to introduce a measure “in the next month” to “modernize and toughen” laws barring the manufacture and sale of counterfeit documents such as drivers’ licenses and birth certificates. Collins’ comments came after a hearing on phony IDs and credentials by the Governmental Affairs Committee’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which she chairs. Collins became interested in the problem of fake IDs when one of her staffers was solicited to buy a driver’s license online, she said. Curious about whether the sales pitch was an isolated incident, she asked her staff to investigate. “They quickly found 60 sites [selling fake ID],” Collins said. Plugging into 15 or so of those e-merchants, subcommittee staff managed to use Internet materials to make drivers’ licenses, a press pass, a student ID card, and other credentials for Collins. “The high quality of the counterfeit identification documents that can be obtained through the Internet is astounding,” Collins said in an opening statement. “During the past decade, government agencies have added numerous security features to identification documents, such as holograms and bar codes, to prevent such counterfeiting. Yet, the Internet sites that sell fake IDs appear to have kept pace by duplicating may of those security features.” Ranking Member Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called the e-trade in phony documents “a growing problem,” not only in the U.S. but overseas. “We’re just really beginning to observe and understand the implications of global access,” he said. The flood of fakes has law enforcement officials worried. In Florida alone, 33 websites purveying false identification have been shutdown, according to Special Agent David Myers, identification fraud coordinator of Florida’s division of alcoholic beverages and tobacco. Thirty percent of phony IDs seized in the state this year have come from the Internet, Myers said. By next year, that number “could be at least 60 to 70 percent,” he added. Putting a halt to the businesses is problematic, Myers said. It can be a “major task” just to locate the websites, many of which operate outside U.S. borders. Assistance from federal agencies is “very difficult,” and very few agents are savvy in the area of counterfeit identification anyway, he said. Another big worry, Collins said, is that phony credentials could help people land jobs they are not qualified for�or allow them to use a fake police officer’s ID to hurt someone. The issue of access to bogus law enforcement IDs online is a “major one that so far has not been looked at,” Myers acknowledged. FBI, SECRET SERVICE TO DEVOTE MORE ATTENTION U.S. Secret Service Director Brian Stafford said his agency intends to devote more attention to the proliferation of fake IDs. The Secret Service, which investigates crimes such as bank and identity fraud, has launched an electronic crimes special agent program to team officers with high-tech enforcement expertise with less experienced agents. The agency works with the U.S. Department of Justice to deal with jurisdictional concerns and global obstacles in order to quash international Internet fraud crime. The U.S. government is also talking with Internet service providers about how to beef up Web security. However, Stafford, said, the Secret Service “acknowledges that false identification and its availability on the Internet is a very real problem.” In written testimony, Federal Bureau of Investigation Financial Crimes Section Chief Lynne A. Hunt said that although the FBI does not now log statistics on identity theft, beginning this fall it will launch a system to track the “IDT component across all white collar crime program categories.” The sale of false social security cards over the Internet has become a “significant problem” to the Social Security Administration, Inspector General James G. Huse, Jr. said in written testimony. And although the agency is running pilot projects with law enforcement agencies in five cities to counteract ID fraud, the effort is “only a drop in the bucket,” he said. What’s the answer? Collins asked. Stafford said research and development is needed in areas such as biometrics to prevent counterfeiting, as well as tougher sentencing guidelines. Training is critical, Myers said. False IDs are becoming “very, very popular,” making frequent training updates necessary. Huse called for legislation that would amend the Social Security Act to allow fraudulent intent to be assumed from the sale or purchase of a fake document, and to permit the agency to fine organizations that misuse its name or symbols in phony cards. Thomas Seitz, a 23-year-old network engineer serving time in jail in New Jersey and awaiting sentencing in Florida on fraud charges involving the use of phony IDs obtained from the Internet, said if websites, particularly those owned by government agencies, were barred from providing specific personal identifiers such as social security numbers, “it would make activities such as mine a bit more difficult.” Collins was “convinced,” she said, that what is called for is “a crackdown by all levels of law enforcement.” “I intend to introduce legislation,” Collins said, that could include updating the 1982 Comprehensive Crime Control Act to apply to documents coming from the Internet, taking a look at federal Internet fraud penalties to see if they are adequate, beefing up international cooperative efforts, and getting U.S. law enforcement more focused on the problem.

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