Technology Assists Forgers and Those Trying to Stop Them

Sample driver's licenses from the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles.
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July 17, 2019 - 6:45am

In the year 2000, there were 887 arrests for forgery and counterfeit in Nebraska. By 2017, that number was more than cut in half. Is this a law enforcement success story, or something more complicated?


“These are IDs we’ve gotten in the past. Like this one, you can tell, that’s just not, you shouldn’t have that peeling off like that,” said Jamie Tallman.

Tallman owns N Street Drive In, a liquor store in Lincoln. His staff keeps a stack of fake IDs customers have tried to use in the past. Lincoln Police Department policy is to confiscate fake IDs as evidence if they are called in on an incident.

Tallman says last year his store only caught about 7 counterfeit driver’s licenses. Nebraska overall has seen a decline in forgery arrests over the last couple decades. That seems like a good thing. As long as it coincides with less actual forgery.

In some ways, technology has been helpful in making documents more secure and harder to forge.

Rhonda Lamb is Director of the Department of Motor Vehicles. She says the department works with businesses to train them on how to spot fake licenses.

“There are certain security features that show under a blacklight, and we do have a brochure that we work with different retail and commercial establishments to help educate them on what they could look for,” Lamb said.

Lamb is more concerned with security in issuing driver’s licenses, however. She says forgery is getting harder, so criminals instead try to use someone else’s identity to get a driver’s license. Photo matching can help prevent that.

“So when you come in to use our system and we take your picture, it compares to your previous picture on file. So if somebody were to come in and be using your name, and we would take that picture, it would then compare it to the previous picture we had with your name, and clearly our system would say, ‘those don’t match,'” Lamb said.

Nebraska is compliant with federal Real ID standards, which set standards for how licenses are issued, and were passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks in 2001.

“There are requirements regarding the actual physical document, and certain security features that have to be included on that," Lamb said. "There’s also requirements regarding verification, and verification systems."

One step is to ask applicants to provide their social security number. Lamb says another key component of verification is communication with other states.

“So, when somebody from Iowa comes to Nebraska we have the capability to check with Iowa and say, ‘This person’s now in Nebraska applying for a license. Did they have one in Iowa and is everything matching up?’” Lamb said.

Lamb says on the business end, those reviewing driver’s licenses should ask questions about the data on a license. Business owners can also scan the barcode on the back of the license, which on a counterfeit document may not return complete information.

Lamb’s baseline advice is simple.

“The main thing is, a little bit, to trust your gut," Lamb said. "You know, if you’re looking at a document and something just isn’t looking right, do pursue it further.”

Driver’s licenses aren’t the only thing people make counterfeit versions of.

Investigator Chad Baehr specializes in forgery and counterfeit for the Lincoln Police Department. He thinks technology has made creating counterfeit money easier.

“Earlier in the ‘90s when you didn’t have computers, it was a lot more of a tedious process to make them. More of organized crime had to be making them, compared to now when you can have high school kids that can make them on the computer with a good ink machine and a good computer,” Baehr said.

Technology hasn’t just made it easier to make counterfeit money. It’s also made it harder to detect fake bills.

“A lot of them are slipping through the cracks where they’re just circulating," Baehr said. "So somebody might get it from a convenience store in change, they might get it out of an ATM – it gets to the bank sometimes too, so most of the times people that are passing don’t even know they’re counterfeit.”

That changes how the police deal with calls about counterfeit money. Businesses can call the police when a customer presents fake bills, and an officer has to make a choice about whether or not to make an arrest. Baehr says this is where the drop in arrests may have started.

“I think there’s an increase in counterfeits that we’re getting reported. We’re just not seeing the intent. It’s people that just don’t know that they have a counterfeit bill in their possession. You just can’t make an arrest on that,” Baehr said.

Part of Baehr’s job is to look for trends in the instances of counterfeit money being passed.

“I can compare different years and that serial number to see if it’s something new that’s been passed, if it’s something a lot of these same serial numbers have been passed the last couple days, weeks, months, and if there are a common person involved that are passing these things to try to keep a tab if it’s just been a random act or somebody that we have to start looking at that might be the person that’s either making them or circulating them out to the general public,” Baehr said.

Those cases are then followed up on further by the police department.

Forgery arrests may be down in Nebraska, but technology has become a tool both for authorities and for those on the wrong side of the law.

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